On Wednesday President Obama met with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman and the 15 Democratic senators who are up for reelection next year to talk about how frustrated they are with Obamacare's rollout. As Politico noted earlier this week, at least five of those senators represent red states: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. There's already an ad attacking Landrieu for her support of the law.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski said in a hearing on Tuesday, "I believe that there’s been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, the canceling of policies, and sticker shock from some people." The GOP sure hopes so: "I think we’re witnessing the beginning of a stampede away from the president’s signature accomplishment," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. To prevent the stampede, Democratic lawmakers are trying to figure out how to smooth over the law's rough edges and save face without criticizing the law, abandoning the administration or incriminating themselves, which is just as complicated as it sounds.
The 'Dear Insurers, please don't cancel plans' strategy
"I won't tolerate a situation where Vermonters go into the holiday season worried and confused by their health care options come Jan. 1. That is simply unacceptable," Vermont's Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said last week. He asked the state's two major insurers to allow people to keep their plans until March 31, 2014. While in most states cancelled plans will run until their renewal date in 2014, in some states those plans will end on December 31. In California, Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones found a loophole that enable him to force Blue Shield to push back the cancellation of 115,000 plans to March 31, Politico reported yesterday. The loophole doesn't apply to other insurers in the state, like Kaiser Permanente.
This mostly works, assuming the federal exchange improves. It's not as if insurers are above trying to get their customers to pay more, and that gels with the White House's move to allow insurance plans purchased up until March 31 to count towards fulfilling the individual mandate. And the longer the federal exchange is unreliable, the better it is for everyone associated with the healthcare law if people have more time to consider their options.
The 'Let's propose less damaging versions of Republican bills' strategy
Their Affordable Care Act compliant options, that is. Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced a bill on Monday that would allow insurers to sell any plans available on the individual market in 2013 in future years. Landrieu's bill, in an attempt to acknowledge the good intentions of the Affordable Care Act, also requires that insurers tell customers what (not-so?) essential benefits their old plans don't offer and requires companies to offer an explanation if they cancel a plan. Unfortunately, that still sort of undermines the whole point of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's exact words to The Wall Street Journal were that a bill that allows substandard plans to stay on the market "undermines the fundamental promise of the Affordable Care Act, which is that everyone in America should have access to affordable, quality health care coverage."
You know who knew that? Republican Rep. Fred Upton. Upton introduced a nearly identical bill, the “If You Like Your Policy, You Can Keep It” measure, that would keep plans active on January 1, 2013 on the market throughout 2014, regardless of Obamacare minimum requirements. Last month Democrats tried this strategy with bills that sought to delay the individual mandate. Democrats wanted to postpone it "temporarily" while Republicans wanted to postpone it "indefinitely." Either scenario would be bad for the healthcare law, and bad for Democrats.