WASHINGTON — Under intense bipartisan pressure to answer mounting consumer complaints about the botched health care rollout, White House officials are struggling to make good on President Obama’s promise that Americans can keep their insurance coverage without undermining the new health law or adding unaffordable costs.
After the president’s apology last week for wrongly assuring Americans that they could retain their health plan if they wanted, senior White House aides said the president wanted to ensure that people who were forced off older policies with less comprehensive coverage were not stuck with a higher monthly premium to replace their insurance. But administration officials declined to say how they might achieve that goal, how much it would cost, or whether it would require congressional approval.
At the same time, officials signaled the president’s strong opposition to calls from across the political spectrum — including one Tuesday from a key ally, former president Bill Clinton — to support bipartisan legislation that would allow people to keep their current insurance plans even after provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect next year.
White House officials refused to discuss in detail what options Obama was considering. But they made clear that the president was skeptical of any solution that would allow insurance companies to continue selling what officials consider to be substandard policies.
“Broadly speaking, we do not see that as fixing the problem,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday.
‘The president should honor the commitment the federal government made.’
The idea of passing legislation to allow all Americans to keep their coverage got a fresh boost Tuesday when Clinton added his voice to the debate. In an interview, Clinton joined the intensifying criticism of the health care rollout and called on Obama to accept a change in the health care law that would allow insurance companies to keep selling policies that do not meet the new standards.
“I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got,” Clinton said in the interview, published by Ozy, an Internet magazine.
Clinton, who tried to pass a health care overhaul during his presidency, has been a powerful advocate for the Affordable Care Act, especially among the president’s key Democratic constituencies. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is weighing a White House bid in 2016 that could be affected by the fortunes of the health care law.
The former president followed a steady stream of Democrats who have announced their support for legislation to let people keep their coverage. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, endorsed one such effort by Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, both Democrats.
“Since the beginning of September, I have received 30,842 calls, e-mails and letters from Californians, many of whom are very distressed by cancellations of their insurance policies and who are facing increased out-of-pocket costs,” Feinstein said. “The Landrieu bill is a common-sense fix that will protect individuals in the private insurance market from being forced to change their insurance plans.”
Landrieu said the cancellation notices “should have never gone out.”
“We said and the president said over and over that if people have insurance and they like the insurance they have, they can keep it,” Landrieu said. “That is my bill. That is the single focus of my bill. It is not to undermine the Affordable Care Act. It is to strengthen it and to keep our promise to millions of Americans.”
The White House declined to comment specifically on Landrieu’s bill, but said that another effort by Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was especially problematic. Under Upton’s bill, an insurer that had individual policies in effect on Jan. 1 of this year could continue to “offer such coverage for sale during 2014” in the market outside an exchange.
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, denounced the bill as an effort to undermine the law.