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The Latest Affordable Care Act Dust-up Should Not Be a Dust-up

10/29/2013 04:00 pm ET | Updated Dec 29, 2013

Like Igor Volsky, you might ask yourself why this particularly story has any legs right now since it's re-litigating an issue that was widely debated a few years. But the answer is obvious: tis the season to attack the Affordable Care Act, no matter if this one is a greatest hit from 2010.

At issue is the president's claim when selling health care reform that if you like your current health plan, you can keep it. That point in turn was based on the provision that grandfathered existing plans in the individual market (neither employer-based or government provided) by granting exemptions from various standards and consumer protections that came into effect when the law was signed in 2010.

However, as clearly stated at the time, if such a plan were to significantly change in ways that are inconsistent with consumer protections under the ACA, that it would lose its grandfathered status.

Like I said, this has been known since the law was written. In fact, go here to see a 2010 publication by my CBPP colleague Sarah Lueck that lists the ways plans can lose its grandfathered status, like eliminating benefits to treat certain conditions or significantly raising co-pays beyond what's implied by the rate of medical price inflation.

So, yeah -- if a plan changes such that a) it's not the same plan, and b) those changes, as Volsky notes, "significantly burden enrollees with lower benefits and increased costs, [then] they have to come into compliance with all consumer protections."

It's also the case that:

-- The administration knew there would be lots of plans in the individual market that would change like this and lose their grandfathered status, and said so back in 2010.

-- Despite rumors to the contrary, it's still a free country and private insurers can discontinue plans whenever they want. That plan may or may not have been grandfathered in 2010, but now needs to improve to come into compliance with the ACA.

-- The vast majority of Americans with health coverage will face few or no changes to their coverage, including the 171 million with employer-based coverage and the 100 million with Medicare and Medicaid. And any changes they will face will be improvements in benefits.

So, did the president misspeak? In a way, sure. He should have said: "If you like your plan and it doesn't get significantly worse such that it's out of sync with what we're trying to do here, you can keep it."

And, in fact, such nuances were clear at the time and not buried in the weeds but discussed in the open. Not much to see here folks... move along.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.