SACRAMENTO -- One million Californians whose medical insurance policies don't comply with the new health care law will most likely not be allowed to keep them for another year, according to sources close to the state's new insurance exchange.
The board that oversees the exchange, called Covered California, on Thursday will consider a proposal that would allow these individuals to keep their current plans -- but only through March 31, when they would have to sign up for a plan that complies with the new law.
That's pretty upsetting to people like Linda Entrikin, who just last week watched President Barack Obama announce that he would encourage insurers to let millions of Americans renew in 2014 health plans that don't comply with his signature legislation if their state insurance commissioners agreed.
"Oh geez," Entrikin, of San Leandro, said with dismay Wednesday. "What was promised was we could keep our plans. And I would expect to be able to keep my plan through at least the end of next year."
For weeks, Obama -- already facing the public-relations disaster of a federal health care website with numerous technical problems -- has been under siege from angry policyholders whose plans are being canceled across the country.
Dave Jones, California's insurance commissioner, has urged Covered California officials to allow insurers to renew the policies.
But on Thursday the five-member board that oversees the health exchange will instead consider a proposal that would, in effect, force individual policyholders to enroll in health insurance plans that conform to the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.
"There is very little appetite from anyone to put health reform off for another year in the state of California," said Micah Weinberg of Obama's directive.
Weinberg, a senior policy adviser to the Bay Area Council, a pro-business advocacy group, said he has talked with insurers and staff at Covered California about what many believe would be the board's best course of action. And sources close to the exchange Wednesday confirmed what Weinberg revealed.
While he said he could not predict what recommendation the board would make, he said the president's proposal might be necessary in other states, especially those that don't have their own exchanges and are forced to use the federal government's balky website.
But, he noted, the Covered California website is up and running. And the Golden State also boasts the greatest number of health-plan enrollees in the nation -- almost 60,000 as of Nov. 12.
Of the million individual policyholders in California whose plans are being canceled, it's estimated that at least 300,000 would be eligible for subsidies, while another 150,000 would be eligible for Medi-Cal, California's health program for the poor, Weinberg said.
If the Covered California board agrees to extend the million policies only through March 31, he said, such a move would not require approval by the state Legislature. The reason is that the board would simply be reversing a Dec. 31 cancellation provision that it voted to include in the insurers' contracts.
But if the board agrees to allow insurers on the state's online marketplace to renew those policies in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown would have to call the Legislature back into special session to vote on the matter because it would directly conflict with state law.
The four major health care insurers participating in California's exchange have said they will work with federal and state officials to find a solution. But along with Covered California, they are concerned about taking hundreds of thousands of younger and healthier people with individual plans out of the insurance exchange's "risk pool" -- and that would drive up insurers' costs.
Still, Covered California's attempt at compromise may not satisfy anyone, said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College.
People who want to keep their plans will still lose them in the spring, he said.
"The board is searching for a middle ground and finding no man's land," Pitney said. "If I were one of the policyholders, I wouldn't be very happy."
If California diverges from Obama's recommendations, the president's credibility on the issue will be damaged even further, Pitney said.
"The loss of California would be very consequential both by its sheer mass and its symbolism," he said. "It's the biggest state, and it's a blue state. If California's not on board, it sends a signal that the president's fix won't fix very much at all."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-920-5343. Follow her at Twitter.com/taseipel.