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President Barack Obama

Susan Walsh, Associated Press - Ap

Health beat: Weighing impact of Obama's broken promise

  • Article by: Jeremy Olson
  • Star Tribune
  • November 25, 2013 - 2:46 PM

President Obama’s “you-can-keep-your-plan” promise has undermined public confidence in Obamacare, polls show, because it turned out to be a promise he couldn’t keep.

But while Obama’s promise was off, the impact has been exaggerated — especially in states like Minnesota — according to a new analysis by Families USA, an advocacy group that favors the new law.

People who get health insurance in the individual market — instead of from their employers or government programs — have long known that insurers could raise their premiums or simply cancel their coverage. Obamacare might have offered new plans on a government exchange — MNsure in this state — but it didn’t change that reality on the external, individual market.

“The individual market has often been considered the Wild, Wild West of health insurance,” said Ron Pollock, Families USA’s executive director.

The headline number is shocking: Some 263,000 Minnesotans with private plans might be forced to pick new ones, whether or not they’re better. But Families USA estimated that 181,000 of those people live in households below 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($94,000 for a family of four). That means they qualify for subsidies that will lower the cost of plans on the exchange or for free care under Medicaid.

Still, 82,000 people won’t qualify for subsidies. But history suggests two-thirds of them would dump their plans anyway; the individual market has always had high levels of annual turnover. That leaves only 23,000 Minnesotans in jeopardy of losing old plans they might want to keep in 2014 without subsidies to lower their costs.

That is a concerning number, Pollock said, but it’s less than the number of Minnesotans who have pre-existing medical conditions and struggled to find any coverage at all before the Affordable Care Act guaranteed it. “Obviously, when an important public official … says something that turns out to be not quite accurate, it deserves public attention,” Pollack said. “I do think, however, that this issue has been blown out of proportion.”

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