Administration said to ponder insurance extension

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 6, 2014 at 2:53 pm •  Published: February 6, 2014
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The Obama administration is considering an extension of the president's decision to let people keep their individual insurance policies even if they are not compliant with the health care overhaul, industry and government officials said Thursday.

Avalere Health CEO Dan Mendelson said Thursday that the administration may let policyholders keep that coverage for as long as an additional three years, stressing that no decision has been made. Policymakers are waiting to see what rate hikes health insurers plan for the insurance exchanges that are key to the overhaul's coverage expansions.

"The administration is entertaining a range of options to ensure that this individual market has stability to it, and that would be one thing that they could do," he said.

Avalere Health is a consulting firm, but Mendelson said his company was not advising the administration on exchange policy. He said he has had informal discussions with administration officials about the extension, but he didn't identify them.

Health and Human Services spokesman Joanne Peters confirmed that the issue is under discussion, saying: "We are continuing to examine all sorts of ways to provide consumers with more choices and to smooth the transition as we implement the law. No decisions have been made."

Aetna Inc. Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini also told analysts during a conference call Thursday to discuss quarterly earnings that he had heard the plans may be extended. Aetna is the nation's third-largest health insurer and has about 135,000 paid customers so far through the exchanges.

Aetna Chief Financial Officer Shawn Guertin said in an interview after the call that there have been discussions about whether the plans should be extended again, but he didn't have any more details.

Individual policyholders were hit with a wave of cancellation notices last year because their coverage was less robust than what is required under the law, and many states allowed insurance companies to simply cancel them

This became one of the most politically explosive issues in the transition to a new health insurance system under Obama's law, which ultimately aims to cover millions of uninsured people. The wave of cancellation notices — at least 4.7 million of them — hit just when the new HealthCare.gov website was experiencing some of its worst technical problems, and it undercut the president's well-publicized promise that if you liked your plan you could keep it.

The law included a complicated scheme called "grandfathering" to try to deliver on Obama's pledge. It was intended to shield policies in force at the time of the law's 2010 enactment from many new requirements, provided the policies themselves changed little. But insurers considered it impractical. And many of the cancelled individual policies would not have been eligible for relief anyway, since they were purchased after the law's passage.



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