Sunday, December 21st, 2014

‘If you like your health insurance, you can keep it’

David Axelrod and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., debate the health care law on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

It’s the question-du-jour about the new health care law: Are people going to be able to keep their health insurance if they like it?

President Barack Obama has several times said yes. We’ve been skeptical of that claim (along with a few other claims from the law’s supporters.) Last year, we rated his statement Half True.

Obama’s statement had a reasonable point: His health care law does take pains to allow Americans to keep their health plan, especially people who get their insurance through work.

But most people have never been able to keep their insurance through thick and thin. Even before the law took effect, a substantial number of policyholders were forced to switch plans every year. Figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office suggested that the law could increase that rate, not reduce it, even if Americans on balance benefit from the law’s provisions mandating comprehensive coverage.

That complicated reality hasn’t stopped the law’s critics from attacking Obama for breaking a promise.

David Axelrod, an Obama adviser, and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., debated just that issue on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Coburn focused on people who have to buy insurance on their own (it’s called the individual market) who have been receiving cancellation letters in recent days. "You're no longer eligible to buy your own plan, which was the No. 1 promise that the president made to the American people," Coburn said.

Axelrod’s response: "The majority of people in this country, the vast majority of people in this country, are keeping their plan. People who are uninsured are going to have choices they never had before."

We ran through the numbers and found that the individual market accounts for about 6 percent of Americans who now have health care. The health care law requires those policies to offer comprehensive coverage, and that means some of the old policies are no longer allowed.

Experts told us there is no precise data to determine how many people will be forced to change health care plans, but they generally agreed the number will be small this year. We rated Axelrod’s statement Mostly True.

Finally, some of the law’s critics have talked about the cancellation notices together with the fact that healthcare.gov, the federal government’s online insurance marketplace, is plagued by problems and isn’t working properly.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Fox News that when you put those two things together, people getting cancellation notices from their insurers won’t be able to buy health insurance.

"On this very day in Florida, it was announced that 300,000 people are going to lose their individual coverage because of Obamacare," Rubio said. "Now those people next year, they don’t have health insurance. They are going to owe the IRS money in the form of a fine. Where are they supposed to go now and buy that health insurance if the website isn’t working, if Consumer Reports is telling people to avoid the website?"

Rubio is right about the people getting cancellation letters, but the letters also state that consumers will have "continuous health care coverage" and assigned them a particular plan, or gave them the option to contact Florida Blue and choose another plan.

So their coverage is not dependent on being able to buy insurance through healthcare.gov, the government’s online marketplace. We rated his statement Mostly False.