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UPDATE 1-U.S. health secretary says no fix yet for canceled health plans

Karen Jacobs
Friday, 8 Nov 2013 | 11:41 AM ET

(Adds quotes from Sebelius, Boehner)

Nov 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Friday that the Obama administration hopes to assist people who received health insurance cancellation notices but has "no specific option right now."

President Barack Obama apologized on Thursday to Americans losing their policies, saying in a television interview that he regrets he was not clear when he repeatedly pledged that Americans who like their current plans can keep them under his signature health insurance system overhaul.

He also said he is looking at "a range of options" to help people whose insurance plans are being canceled, although he stopped short of pledging support for proposed legislation that would permit policies in place before the healthcare law took effect to continue unchanged.

Sebelius on Friday was also vague about what could be done for the hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their current coverage because their policies do not comply with new requirements spelled out in Obamacare, such as coverage for mental health and maternity care.

"So we're looking at a number of options where there may be an opportunity for that number of people to look at plans that they have right now. But there isn't any specific proposal at the table immediately," Sebelius said, speaking at a medical center in Atlanta.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year and mandates that most Americans have health insurance beginning Jan. 1 or pay a fine.

The most sweeping social legislation since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid the 1960s, the law known as Obamacare offers subsidized private coverage to lower income families through new state insurance marketplaces, expands government insurance for the poor and sets new consumer safeguards and cost-saving initiatives for the healthcare industry.

Critics, who see it as a costly expansion of government, say Obamacare is too complicated to work and will lead to higher healthcare costs and bigger federal deficits unless it is derailed.

The disastrous launch on Oct. 1 of HealthCare.gov, which is the main web portal for Americans to buy insurance through new exchanges, gave opponents new ammunition for criticism of Obama. The site has been riddled with technology glitches.

Republicans have also accused him of misleading the public when he said Americans would be able to keep their current insurance and doctors.

A spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Friday said because of those statements, Obama now has little credibility in his pledge for finding a solution for those facing cancellation notices.

"We are highly skeptical that there is anything the President can do administratively to keep his pledge that would be both legal and effective," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for the Ohio Republican.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs and David Morgan; writing by Karey Van Hall; editing by Philip Barbara and Jackie Frank)