Updated Nov. 15, 2013 1:43 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama met Friday afternoon with chief executives from across the health-insurance industry, a day after he said he wanted insurers to allow people to keep their current health plans even if they didn’t meet new standards.
Mr. Obama, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and other administration officials huddled with chief executives from a host of insurance companies, including Humana and Blue Cross, at the White House to discuss problems with the health law.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to insurance executives participating in Afforable Care Act exchanges at the White House Friday. European Pressphoto Agency
“We share a similar value, which is we want to make sure that Americans have good solid coverage that gives them the security they need for them and their family members when they get sick,” Mr. Obama said in remarks to reporters ahead of the meeting. He said that despite problems with HealthCare.gov, the federal health-exchange website, there is strong demand for new health insurance.
Mr Obama said he and the executives will be “brainstorming on how do we make sure that everybody understands what their options are” when it comes to health insurance.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama said he would allow insurers to re-enroll consumers in health plans, but not sell the plans to new customers. The president acted to quell an uproar among nervous Democrats flocking to a Republican bill that would allow insurers to re-enroll consumers in health plans and also sell the plans to new customers.
Friday’s meeting comes after the House voted earlier in the day to pass the GOP bill. The measure was approved 261-157—with 39 Democrats voting for the bill and four Republicans voting against it—to respond to complaints that millions of Americans who buy insurance coverage directly from insurers face the cancellations of their policies because they don’t meet the health law’s standards.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Fla.), who co-sponsored the GOP bill authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.), said he wants to respond to worried voters. “A lot of constituents are confused,” he said, adding that they “want to know are there going to be more issues with the rollout? Are they going to get dropped still? Are there more pieces to fall here?”
The White House said that Mr. Obama would veto the bill because it would allow insurers to sell substandard plans to new customers, omitting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and charging women more than men.
Democratic critics said the Upton bill, which is unlikely to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate, would give insurers too much latitude to choose which plans to continue, allowing them to sell low-quality policies that had been banned under the ACA.
In addition, they say, it would allow healthier people to buy insurance outside the new insurance marketplaces, leaving sicker people in the new federal system and thus driving up premiums in 2015 and beyond. That, in turn, would threaten the long-term viability of the marketplaces and undercut the effort to cover millions of uninsured Americans.
The meeting comes after the health-insurance industry’s main trade group expressed skepticism about the president’s efforts to help people keep their insurance plans, saying it could lead to higher prices. “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen Ignagni, CEO of the trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans.
Insurers and the administration have been discussing the prospect of insurers getting the go-ahead and necessary data to directly enroll people who would qualify for subsidies under the law in recent days, something strongly desired by big, established carriers, but no decision about that has been announced. Such a move would go some way toward addressing the industry’s concerns about the president’s Thursday announcement.
Mr. Obama and senior administration officials will be meeting with the chief executives to “discuss ways to work together to help people enroll through the Marketplace and efforts to minimize disruption for consumers as they transition to new coverage,” a White House official said. The White House didn’t immediately say which chief executives Mr. Obama will be meeting with.
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The meeting comes after the health-insurance industry’s main trade group expressed skepticism about the president’s efforts to help people keep their current insurance plans, saying it could lead to higher prices. It also comes as the House is set to vote on a plan from Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) that would allow insurers to sell policies that don’t meet the law’s standards to new customers. Mr. Obama’s change would limit sales of policies that don’t meet the law’s standards to existing customers.
Democrats are also already mounting their own efforts. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.) and Lois Capps (D., Calif.) wrote a letter urging their state to implement the Obama administration’s change. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) has expressed hope that state insurance regulators will follow through.
“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen Ignagni, CEO of the trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans.
Mr. Obama announced the changes in a press conference Thursday amid mounting pressure from his own party to act. Consumers, Republicans and Democrats have complained about the health website and about the millions of people who are getting notices from their insurance companies that their plans are being canceled because they don’t meet the new law’s standards.
“We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law,” Mr. Obama said. To the millions of people who are getting cancelation notices even though he previously promised they would be able to keep their plans, he said: “I hear you loud and clear.”
Millions of people have received cancellation notices from their insurers, who said the policies weren’t compliant with new requirements for coverage and have changed too much since 2010 to be eligible for a “grandfathering” exemption. It remained unclear how many insurers would restore policies they had ended, and some industry officials called Mr. Obama’s reversal unworkable.
—Louise Radnofsky contributed to this article.