WASHINGTON — Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and five other senators.
In recent weeks, insurers have told many people that their insurance policies were being canceled because they did not comply with the minimum coverage requirements of the law. Insurers usually offer to replace the coverage with new policies that do comply, providing more benefits at higher cost.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a bulletin Thursday advising consumers, “If you have been notified that your individual market policy will not be renewed, you will be eligible for a hardship exemption and will be able to enroll in catastrophic coverage.”
Sebelius said the goal was to ensure “the smoothest possible transition” for people seeking new coverage after cancellation of their policies.
Nearly 365,000 people selected health plans in the exchanges in October and November, before a big increase reported early this month. Catastrophic plans provide basic coverage and are generally available on the exchanges only to people who are under 30 or qualify for a hardship exemption from the requirement to carry insurance.
The Obama administration broadly defined who can qualify. “If the consumer believes that the plan options available in the marketplace in their area are more expensive than their canceled health insurance policy, they will be eligible for catastrophic coverage through a hardship exemption,” the administration said.
Insurers, already struggling with problems caused by the chaotic debut of the federal insurance exchange in October, expressed surprise and dismay.
“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” said Karen M. Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.
— NEW YORK TIMES
Unions balk but bid to drop mail delivery gains support
WASHINGTON — A proposed compromise toward ending Saturday US mail delivery is falling flat with unions while getting the support of a Senate committee chairman leading a push to advance stalled postal legislation.
Discussions have involved letting the US Postal Service end Saturday mail delivery if mail volume or revenue drops below a specified level, Senator Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat who leads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Thursday in an interview.
‘‘I'm attracted to the idea of a volume trigger that will incentivize postal employees to work harder, sell harder, and incentivize mailers to mail more,’’ Carper said.
The idea is meeting resistance from postal unions, which want to keep Saturday delivery and the jobs that go with it.
Jeanette Dwyer, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, said her union opposes any idea that may end Saturday mail delivery.
‘‘Bottom line is you ought to be talking about how to increase your business,’’ she said in a phone interview.
— BLOOMBERG NEWS
Clinton says she hasn’t yet made up her mind about run
WASHINGTON — Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton says she has not made up her mind about whether to run for president in 2016 but will ‘‘make that decision sometime next year.’’
Clinton said in an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News that it is a ‘‘difficult decision’’ she does not want to rush into.
She said in the interview the focus should be on issues such as unemployment, people ‘‘getting kicked off food stamps,’’ and small businesses that cannot get access to credit.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS