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State may be unable to intervene on cancellations

HELENA — Montana's insurance commissioner criticized the president's move Thursday to allow insurance plans that had been slated to be canceled with the nation's health overhaul.

Monica Lindeen said on a conference call that it "throws everything on its head" after three years of preparing for the new federal law.

President Barack Obama reversed course Thursday and said individuals should be allowed to renew plans now ticketed for cancellation. Foes used the cancellations to pounce on campaign trail promises that Americans could keep their insurance if they liked it.

Many of those plans did not fulfill some requirements of the new health care law.

His proposal was supposed to give authority to state insurance commissioners to approve such renewals.

But Lindeen said state law does not appear to give her authority to intervene. The Democrat said the insurance industry in Montana will likely be able to make its own decisions on the matter.

Lindeen said the president's last-minute change could make a "rocky rollout" more confusing. She said many who had policies canceled could find better insurance for less money on the new marketplaces, once they are properly working.

The insurance commissioner's office said that about 26,000 Montanans were affected by product withdrawals related to the health care rollout.

The health insurance industry cautioned Thursday that the president's offer to reverse cancellations is too late and could raise premiums because premiums have been set for next year based on the assumption that many with individual plans would shift into the new insurance marketplaces.

Lindeen said she has the same concern. She was critical of Obama, and the federal government's role in regulating insurance offerings.

"We agree on one thing, the rollout of Obamacare has been pretty rocky ... but I don't think his announcement today does anything to smooth out the bumps," Lindeen said. "Obviously, the president made a promise he should not have made, and it is really tough to put the genie back in the bottle."

Lindeen said she would continue conversations in the coming days with the state's insurance companies about their plans.

Republicans opposed to the health care law were even more critical of the president.

"Over the past month, I've heard from hundreds of Montanans who are looking for relief from the consequences of President Obama's health care law, and unfortunately, today's proposal isn't a long-term fix, nor does it address the core problems with this failed law," U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said in a release.


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