JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has proposed creating a new tier of insurance policies with lower premiums under the federal health care law as a way to address affordability concerns.
The Alaska Democrat said his proposed “copper plans” would cover the services listed as essential health benefits under the law, and ensure at least half of medical costs are covered.
The five levels of plans available through online insurance marketplaces are bronze, silver, gold, platinum and catastrophic. Catastrophic plans have high deductibles and are available only to certain people, including those under 30, according to the federal website healthcare.gov. Platinum plans have higher premiums and cover 90 percent of expected costs, while bronze plans have lower monthly premiums but cover only 60 percent of average costs.
Begich said most of the plans being canceled because they don’t meet the law’s requirements cover about 40 percent of costs. In a letter to President Barack Obama this week, he said his plan would give Alaskans “access to comprehensive health plans closer to what some were purchasing prior to the law’s implementation.”
While offering lower premiums, the copper plan also would require higher out-of-pocket expenses. Begich told The Associated Press Wednesday there’s a need for more options. He said he had a sense this would be an issue, but that need has become more apparent now that people are enrolling in plans.
Begich, who is expected to face a tough re-election fight next year, has defended the health care law as helping to address what had been a broken health delivery system. But he also has supported a number of ideas aimed at making it better.
Last week he signed onto legislation from Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., which would allow people to keep their existing policies through 2015. Begich said his copper plan idea would build off that and offer a longer-term solution for people wanting more affordable coverage options while also helping ensure that risk pools are more balanced.
Begich also supported extending the open enrollment period to account for the rocky rollout of the federally run online exchanges. He said Wednesday his biggest concern there was making sure people weren’t penalized if they had trouble enrolling online. The White House pushed back from mid-February to March 31 the date by which people must sign up for insurance to avoid penalties under the law. Begich said he was satisfied with that, and with what he says have been significant improvements in the website since the Oct. 1 launch, he doesn’t see a need to extend open enrollment beyond the scheduled end of March 31.
In his letter dated Tuesday, Begich also urged Obama to consider proposals to allow for easier enrollment and comparison shopping on the exchanges. He asked that states like Alaska, which refused funding to set up their own marketplaces, have money made available to them to do so now.
Begich’s main Republican rivals for his seat — Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, Joe Miller and Dan Sullivan — see his proposals as too little to rescue what they see as a bad law.
“I believe we should come back to the idea of individual responsibility in health care,” Treadwell said. He said the law makes people pay for something they don’t need, amounts to a huge tax increase, and is beginning to subsidize large groups of people who weren’t asking for a subsidy. Treadwell also sees Begich’s support of Udall’s bill as Begich “scrambling to cover his record there.”
Miller, a tea party favorite during his 2010 run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a fellow Republican, said he would support legislation “that increases patient choice and introduces true free market principles, which is the only real solution to controlling costs and increasing access to care.”
In a statement, he said Begich “has been on the exact wrong side of this issue since day one.”
Sullivan said Begich “is trying to fix the Obamacare train wreck with duct tape and Band-Aids.”
“None of Mark’s proposals would solve the problems that Obamacare has created for Alaskan families,” Sullivan said in a statement.