But health industry consultant Bob Laszewski says it's too late for these measures to help Americans losing their policies on January 1. If Congress and the president agreed to a new law, insurance companies would still need time to re-open canceled plans, state insurance commissioners would have to expedite the approval of those plans (a process that usually takes months), and Americans would need time to choose to sign up for their old plan or hold out for a subsidized Obamacare plan. "You've got to have a process where [insurers] send them a letter, and you have to work with their questions, and they have to affirmatively sign up for left or right," Laszewski tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "You're not going to do that in six weeks."
Health policy expert Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center disagrees with that assessment. "I think this notion that 'Oh, you know, it'll take too long' is just an excuse," says Capretta, a former Associate Director at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Capretta points to California, where the insurance commissioner forced Blue Shield to delay cancellations for over 100,000 people because of a technicality (the insurer sent its cancellation letters out later than required by law).
"These insurers are complying. They found a way to reopen their plan to keep people on them," Capretta tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "So if that can be done, other plans can be brought back."
But according to Laszewski, that's not a feasible option. "I am sure they are in a real mess trying to figure out how to handle it in their systems," he says. "It took the insurance companies many months to get rid of these policies. They'd have to go through a process of redoing their computer systems."
Capretta thinks the real problem isn't that insurers lack the technical ability to reopen canceled plans. "The insurers don't want to go back. They bought in, spent a lot of money investing in Obamacare," he says. "If the House passes this…pressure will build on the states and the insurers to reopen these plans and let people stay in them."
Although Laszewski thinks it's too late to help people losing their plans on January 1, he says there is enough time to save the plans of millions of Americans who haven't lost their plans yet but will at some point in 2014. "There's enough time not to send the cancellation letters out for April, May, June," he says.
Cancellation letters will continue to go out in 2014 as plans expire each month, and some people were able to renew their current plans through December of 2014. "People who haven't gotten the cancellation letter yet, or people like me who took the early renewal and my renewal date is now December of 2014, hopefully you can conceivably get something done by then," says Laszewski.
But not every state has allowed its residents to renew their plans through December 2014. "I don't have a list of states that are doing it and not doing it. You gotta call every insurance commissioner to find out," Laszewski explains. "There are liberal states out there that thought the early renewal program was a circumvention of Obamacare by those scumbag, substandard, bad apple insurance companies."
"Take the early renewal program if you can, defer this to December, and pray for a miracle," Laszewski says. "That's the best practical advice I can give anybody."