DETROIT (AP) – President Barack Obama’s top health care official said Friday that the number of people wanting to keep insurance policies that were canceled because of the federal health overhaul is small, but they have valid concerns that the administration is addressing.
“It’s a relatively small number of people in the overall scheme of things. But for those people it’s real,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a visit to a Detroit health clinic, where she sought to reassure the public that a troubled federal insurance website that launched Oct. 1 will be much improved by the end of November.
Obama on Thursday said his administration no longer will require insurers to jettison plans that fall short of minimum coverage standards. Sebelius told reporters that the president’s decision to let people who buy their own insurance keep the plan for another “bridge year” strikes a balance between ultimately still steering them to plans with more comprehensive coverage and recognizing that residents who do not qualify for tax subsidies on the exchange may be at a financial disadvantage.
“The last thing he wants is people to be without coverage,” she said.
Sebelius toured the Community Health and Social Services Center on the city’s southwest side and observed as counselors helped guide a couple of uninsured residents through their options under the law. Coverage starts Jan. 1 for low- to moderate-income residents who sign up for insurance on the website, in person, by phone or mail. Low-income residents who qualify for Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program will be covered April 1.
Just 1,300 state residents picked a plan in the first month, according to federal data, though Sebelius said many residents are still shopping.
Sebelius highlighted the story of Diane Kay, a 33-year-old self-employed lawyer who said she went to healthcare.gov on Monday and was able to enroll in a plan in 30 minutes. When Kay had tried in October, she said she could not create an account.
Kay, of Brighton, has been without insurance since 2007, saying a pre-existing condition made $1,000-plus monthly premiums unaffordable and the coverage would have been substandard regardless. She said she found a plan that will cost her roughly $175 a month on the exchange.
“I got a huge break,” Kay said.
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