Joe Raedle / Getty Images file
Angel Rivera, left, and his wife Wilma Rivera sit with an insurance agent as they try to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
People with health insurance the government considers substandard may keep the policies for another two years, the Obama administration said Wednesday.
Senior administration officials confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that the administration would further extend the exception for people who object to being forced to buy new policies that meet tough new government requirements.
President Obama first extended the policies last November in a major concession that his administration had fumbled. Republicans made hay with reports that tens of thousands of people got cancellation notices from their insurance companies, despite Obama’s repeated promises that people who like their insurance plans could keep them.
The exception was published amid a batch of new rules for insurers and employers affected by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. It’s sure to delight critics of the law who say the Obama administration has botched the rollout.
And they came amid yet another vote in the House of Representatives to rescind parts of the law. The Republican-controlled House has voted 50 times to repeal the law — votes that are strictly symbolic as the Democratic-controlled Senate will never consider repeal.
"The Obama administration's announcement today that it will continue to allow insurers to sell health care plans that don't meet Obamacare minimum coverage requirements is not only another reminder of the President's broken promise that you can keep your plan if you like it, but represents a desperate move to protect vulnerable Democrats in national elections later this year," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
Senior administration officials, speaking on the condition that they not be quoted, denied the extension was being done to avoid another outcry about canceled insurance plans just as a batch of Democrats face tough election challenges next November. They said they simply wanted to give people more time to figure out they can buy better insurance on the state and federal health insurance exchanges.
They quoted estimates from the RAND corporations, which says about 500,000 people have these bare-bones policies, which don't meet new requirements such as mandatory free cancer screening, contraceptives and vaccinations.
Federal officials have been steadily tweaking the law’s requirements, making several extensions to deadlines, mostly because the Oct. 1 rollout of state and federal online marketplaces for buying insurance was such a mess.
People have until the end of March to sign up for health insurance and avoid paying a tax penalty for 2014.
First published March 5 2014, 1:17 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.