WASHINGTON — Despite nearly a quarter million Coloradans receiving cancellation letters from health insurers, the state’s two U.S. senators have declined to retract their promises Coloradans with plans would be able to keep them under a new health care law.
On Wednesday, Sen. Michael Bennet said he did not recall a June 2009 speech on the Senate floor in which the Democrat said “(i)f you have coverage and you like it, you can keep it.” His memory notwithstanding, the text and video of the speech remain on Bennet’s website.
When a reporter asked Bennet if he would have voted for the law knowing some Americans would lose their insurance plans, he referred the question to a spokesman. The spokesman did not respond for comment.
Sen. Mark Udall has been similarly coy about the “drop letters” some health insurers have sent to Americans months before and during the rollout of the controversial law.
On Tuesday afternoon, Udall referred a question to a spokesman. His spokesman too did not return an email message for comment.
Udall and Bennet’s evasiveness contrasts with their unambiguous statements four years ago about the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
“If you have an insurance policy you like, a doctor or medical facility that provides medical services to you,” you’ll be able to keep your doctor or your plan,” Udall told a reporter with Fox21 News in September 2009.
“If you have your doctor and you like him or her, you should be able to keep him or her, as well. We will not take that choice away from you,” Bennet added.
Despite Bennet and Udall’s promises, at least 3.5 million Americans have received notices that their insurance plans have been cancelled as a result of Obamacare, according to an Associated Press report Monday.
Many of those 3.5 million policyholders live in Colorado. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana and other providers have sent “drop letters” to Coloradans in recent months. The Colorado Division of Insurance put the number at 249,199 cancellation letters as of November 1.
Coming up with a coherent explanation for the cancellation notices has been a struggle for the Obama administration and Senate Democrats.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius referred not to drop letters or cancellation notices but “plan turnover.” She blamed insurance companies for not coming into compliance with the law despite having three years to change their plans to fit the law’s ten requirements.
“If plans in the market changed over and over again since 2010, then insurers have been on notice since 2010 that they need come into compliance with the same exact consumer protections that are in the small group market, in the employer market, in every other part of health insurance. It just wasn’t available to individuals who were out shopping on their own,” she said.
Bennet and Udall have not referred to or acknowledged “plan turnover.” They have been evasive about the cancellation notices, and their hesitation reflects the political unease both lawmakers feel about the botched rollout of the President’s health care law.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bennet was asked if the implementation of Obamacare would hurt Senate Democrats in the elections next fall.
“Well, I think that for the next year, the quality of the candidates will be important,” he said in response to a question from a New York Times reporter.
Bennet is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On Wednesday morning, Bennet cut out early of a Senate Finance Committee hearing at which Sebelius testified. He traveled to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and 14 Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2014, including Udall.
Although the White House did not make available a transcript of the two-hour, unscheduled meeting, multiple news outlets reported that senators aired their grievances about the law to Obama and Biden.
Udall released a letter he sent Tuesday to Sebelius and the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in which he criticized the implementation of HealthCare.gov, the federal website designed to serve as the main portal through which uninsured Americans sign up for private insurance.
“The rollout of HealthCare.gov has not been smooth — to say the least — and I shared the concerns of Coloradans directly with the president,” Udall wrote.
Although Bennet and Udall not retracted their promises about the permanence of the insurance plans, they have not reiterated them either. The disjuncture between their four-year-old promises and silence leaves room for Republicans to attack their credibility.
“Well, (Democrats) should retract their statements, because quite frankly they can’t support them,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said after the Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) sought to change the subject when asked if his Democratic colleagues should disavow their promises. “It’s (not) like this is the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Republicans … don’t want to talk about all those sick 100 million Americans who don’t have any insurance,” he said, referring mistakenly to the 40 million Americans who were not insured before the ACA.
On Wednesday, Bennet sought to assure a reporter he was not being defensive about his support for the law. “I would be glad to talk about the Affordable Care Act,” he said wanly.