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Covered California rejects canceled health plan extension

November 21st, 2013 | by Victoria Pelham | Comments

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The Covered California health insurance marketplace declined Thursday to allow the extension of canceled individual policies that don’t meet Affordable Care Act requirements for 2014, defying President Obama’s plan to keep these policies in place for one year.

“The only thing we could have done is delay a problem,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee. “Rather than just delay that let’s be honest and forthright, address it as much as possible.”

Covered California’s five-person board voted unanimously to keep the original Dec. 31 deadline for health insurance companies to end non-compliant plans, saying that extending it would offer no benefit and could cause confusion about affordable coverage through the marketplace.

The decision also will ensure the goals of the law are met, the board said in a statement, by protecting consumers.

Lee said that about 200,000 people in California will see rates go up on their plans under the hugely divisive health care reform, Obama’s signature law that has been struggling since its open Oct. 1 with malfunctions on the federal healthcare.gov website and the cancellation of individual insurance policies. He said that’s not a huge number, but if you’re one of them, that’s a big deal.

Covered California’s board urged the creation of tools for consumers enrolled in these types of plans to learn more about their options, emphasizing outreach and education and going before Congress, the president and the state legislature to create a “long-term fix.”

The president has apologized for the cancellation of plans and made the decision to extend them with the idea that it would be in keeping with his repeated promises of “If you like your plan you can keep it.”

More than 1 million California residents have lost their health insurance, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement responding to the marketplace’s decision.

“On behalf of these policyholders I am disappointed in Covered California’s action, which denies individuals and families the opportunity to keep their existing health insurance as President Obama promised,” Jones said.

“Allowing existing policyholders to keep their health insurance for the duration of 2014 will not undermine the implementation of the ACA, but rather will give consumers more time to figure out what makes sense for their families,” he added.

California made up about one-third of the national ACA exchange enrollments in its first month.

“The president said states should do what is right for, what works for their state,” Lee said. “California is working well.”

Close to 71,200 applications were completed on the exchange during the week ending Nov. 16, a big jump from the initial 28,699 in its first week. A total of 360,464 applications had been completed in California and determined eligible for either exchange subsidies or Medi-Cal by Nov. 19.

“That’s a lot of people, that’s changing a lot of lives, that’s giving a lot of people hope and that’s putting people’s fears and worries to bed,” Lee said.

About 22.5 percent of the October enrollees were in the 18-to 34-year-old age range, a demographic heavily sought after on the exchanges to balance out the expenses of the older and sicker, many with preexisting conditions, and keep costs down.

The exchange also announced Thursday five new strategies to “sustain, if not increase, its enrollment momentum.”

  • -Extend its enrollment period for Jan. 1 on Covered California plans from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 and not have to pay until Jan. 5, giving them “enough time to get their check in the mail.”
  • -Creating a customer service hotline, 855-857-0445, starting on Nov. 25, to answer specific coverage questions.
  • -Sending information to nearly 1.13 million people in partnership with health plans going over their options for coverage.
  • -Collecting and reporting regular data.
  • -Outreach and education through Certified Insurance Agents, Enrollment Counselors and Educators.

Covered California is offering plans through Anthem, Blue Shield, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente and Molina Healthcare in Riverside County. They will take effect Jan. 1.

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