The nationwide furor over the cancellation of millions of individual health insurance policies gained momentum Tuesday as pressure built on Congress and the Obama administration to fix the problem.
The news came in waves: In an interview with an online magazine, former President Bill Clinton urged President Barack Obama to allow those individuals whose policies don't comply with the new health care law to keep their insurance plans — even if it meant tweaking the law. Then, in California, for the second time in two weeks, another large insurance company said it will delay dropping tens of thousands of these policies. Finally, news outlets reported that the low number of health insurance enrollees nationwide didn't
The initial frustration over the botched rollout of the law was linked to problems with the new online health insurance websites, particularly the site run by the federal government in 36 states that did not create their own websites.
But that issue has been superseded by the howls of consumers who don't get health insurance throughï»¿ their employers, but must buy it on their own. Nationwide, about 14 million of these plans, including a million in California, are being canceled by insurers because many don't meet the requirements of the new law.
News reports Tuesday said enrollment numbers that will be reported for the first time Thursday for the federal health care website will be in the 40,000 to 50,000 range, a drop in the bucket. California, which runs its own website, is also expected to report enrollment numbers.
In California, Anthem Blue Cross announced it was offering temporary relief to 104,000 customers by allowing them to keep their current plans through Feb. 28. The company, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said, had failed to give customers a 90-day notice required by the state to alert them that their plans would be canceled by Dec. 31.
Clinton's advice to Obama was direct.
"I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they've got," Clinton said in an interview with ozy.com.
House Republicans seized on Clinton's remarks.
"These comments signify a growing recognition that Americans were misled when they were promised that they could keep their coverage," House Speaker John Boehner said.
Still, millions of Americans whose plans are being canceled are waiting for Obama to offer an antidote to their pain, magnified by the steep cost of replacement policies confronting many as a result of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Among those suffering sticker shock is Livermore real estate broker Larry Waelde.
Like many others, he believed Obama when the president said people could keep their existing plans if they liked them. But Waelde said his existing $773 monthly premium for his family of four will more than double, based on rates he has reviewed on the state's online insurance exchange.
"The damage has been done," said Waelde, an Anthem Blue Cross customer who doesn't think he's among the 104,000 whose policy cancellations will be delayed.
Waelde said that Obama's public apology over the cancellations last week helped, and he is holding out hope for "some sort of remediation."
Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Menlo Park-based Kaiser Family Foundation, noted that Obama indicated last week that he wants to come up with a fair solution. "So," he said, "I would expect something to happen soon."
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., has proposed a bill that would give insurance companies the option of continuing all existing individual health plans for a year. And U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., have proposed a bill that would require insurance companies to reinstate the canceled policies.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday that she'll co-sponsor the Landrieu bill because it "provides a simple fix to a complex problem." She said her offices have received 30,842 calls, emails and letters from Californians since early September, many voicing dismay about cancellation of policies and higher out-of-pocket costs.
Some consumer advocates doubt that either bill will pass without bipartisan support.
"Republicans want to get rid of the ACA, not improve it," said Jamie Court, president of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog.
Court said that while his group would like to see all insurers extend their cancellation deadlines through 2014, the biggest outrage is coming from steeper prices and narrow provider networks in the news plans.
Kimy Chan, a Santa Clara financial consultant and Anthem customer, said the company's plan to delay cancellations won't solve her biggest problem: replacing a $388 monthly policy for herself and her husband with a $928 monthly policy.
"I don't need more time to choose a plan," she said. "I need a more affordable plan."