JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Friday said he supports a new stopgap measure to help individuals whose insurance policies face cancellation under the federal health care law.
But he said he would prefer a long-term solution, and remained hopeful that Congress will work on improvements to the health care law in the coming year.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama’s administration announced that individuals whose policies are being canceled because they don’t meet the law’s requirements would be eligible for a hardship exemption and able to enroll in bare-bones catastrophic plans.
A spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the option will be available in 2014, but officials would evaluate the need to extend it.
At least two Alaska insurers, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, have said they would extend into 2014 existing individual policies that otherwise would have been canceled. Obama extended that option last month, though state insurance regulators had to give their OK.
Begich said the latest measure likely won’t have much impact in Alaska because so many existing policies are already being extended. But he said the government needs to be nimble and flexible in responding to issues that arise with implementing the law.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, however, saw things differently, calling the administration’s latest move “a stunning admission that its signature achievement is clearly not ready for prime time.”
“At this point, I think Alaskans need to be protected from this bill and the anxiety and frustration it has created for people who just want to know that they and their loved ones can get medical care,” she said in a statement.
Dan Sullivan, who is one of several candidates seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Begich in next year’s U.S. Senate race in Alaska, said the administration “seems to be changing the health care law as they go along.” He said in a statement that he would work to repeal the law, if elected.
Begich, a Democrat, has supported the health care law but also supported ways to make it better, including creation of a new tier of insurance as a way to address lingering affordability concerns.
Begich proposed a tier of plans that would have lower premiums but require higher out-of-pocket expenses and would cover the services listed as essential health benefits under the law. He has referred to it as “catastrophic plus.”
Though 2014 is an election year, he said congressional leadership is going to have to deal with this issue. He said it isn’t about the politics of the health care law but about getting the law to work better for people.