Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced that he is cosponsoring the Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act, a bill that gives consumers the choice to keep their current health plans if they want to continue them. During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, a promise was made to consumers that if they liked their health care plan, they could keep it. Merkley wants to ensure that this promise is kept for Oregonians.In short, Landrieu's bill (full text here) would require insurance companies to continue offering existing health plans to current customers for as long as they sell insurance in the same market. These plans would be considered "grandfathered" plans, and as such would not be required to meet all the minimum benefits of Obamacare, but unlike a plan supported by House Republicans, they could not be sold to new customers. In addition, under Landrieu's proposal, insurance companies would be required to inform customers that they have different options available on health care exchanges, and that those options would (in most cases) provide superior benefits at comparable if not lower costs.
From a political perspective, the main selling point of the bill is that it gives Democrats in the House and Senate a workable, easy-to-explain proposal that would fulfill the promise that anyone who wants to keep their current insurance can keep their current insurance. Without a plan like this, some Democrats facing pressure over the cancellation issue and rocky exchange rollout could be tempted to support the Republican approach, even though the GOP plan would effectively destroy Obamacare by allowing new customers to sign up for grandfathered plans, a policy shift that would render exchanges moot.
Landrieu's bill also poses a political dilemma for Republicans. If they decide to support her plan, it effectively ends the cancellation issue by shifting the focus back to insurers, where it belongs. In the much more likely scenario that Republicans decide to oppose it, then it puts them on record as opposing the simplest, most straightforward solution to the cancellation problem because they once again tried to destroy Obamacare instead of making it work better.
In an ideal world, we wouldn't even be having a debate about this issue, but like it or not, the debate is here, and Democrats need to stake out a position—and supporting Landrieu's bill is a sensible one to take.