USA TODAY - President Obama met Friday with a group of health insurance CEOs to discuss the transition to new rules under the Affordable Care Act.
"We want to make sure that Americans have good, solid coverage that gives them the security they need for themselves and their family members if and when they get sick," the president told reporters as aides and the insurance executives sat around him.
The meeting came a day after Obama -- amid criticism from lawmakers as well as people who have had their insurance policies canceled -- announced that companies can continue providing coverage for a year under policies that don't meet new requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
Insurance brokers, regulators and carriers told USA TODAY that Obama's announcement could cause chaos because they have been making plans based on legal demands that took effect Oct. 1.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama and others would "talk about ways we can work together to help people enroll through the marketplace and efforts we can make to minimize disruption."
Companies have canceled policies because they do not provide all the benefits required by the ACA, such as maternity care and prescription drug benefits.
While consumers may welcome the chance to get their old policies back, insurers and brokers say it isn't as easy as it may sound.
"Agents and brokers understand the desire of legislators and the president to try to make people whole," says Jessica Waltman, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters. "However, they are concerned that taking this action at this late stage of the game will have a further destabilizing effect on the market and will impact who enrolls in the exchanges."
Besides, she says, it's "just going to delay inevitable changes to the market. We're eager to get more details how this can work and not cause prices to go up."
The president's guests at Friday's meeting included CEOs of Cigna, Aetna, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
In his brief remarks to reporters before the meeting, Obama cited another flap surrounding the health care law, the malfunctioning website.
"Because of the problems with the website, some folks have been blocked from seeing the well-priced benefits that are available in the marketplace," Obama said. "And so we're working 24/7 to get it fixed."
The president said he and industry leaders are "brainstorming" in "a collaborative process" to improve the system.
Obama's meeting with the insurance CEOs took place shortly after the Republican-run House approved a bill that would allow Americans to keep existing policies indefinitely; the bill would still have to be approved by the Democratic-run Senate.
Aides said Obama would veto the House GOP bill, saying too many existing policies are substandard. Obama said his proposed one-year extension is designed to help insurers and consumers adjust to the demands of the new law.
Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said Thursday that some new policies have already been issued incorporating demands for a "broad range of benefits" - and allowing canceled policies to be extended for a year would "destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers."
Ignagni said, "Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace."
In addition, state insurance commissioners are under no obligation to approve substandard policies for one more year. Washington, Georgia and Arkansas have already said they won't allow the extensions.
"An announcement does not mean that any change is realistic or likely, due to timing," said Matt Schwartz, an insurance broker in Louisville, who said he is waiting to hear whether the Kentucky insurance commissioners or the insurance companies he carries will even allow a change based on Obama's proposal.