SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

December 27, 2013

Reversal on cancellations elicits mixed response

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A month after President Barack Obama announced people could keep insurance policies slated for cancellation under the federal health overhaul, the reversal has gotten a mixed response from insurers, state regulators and consumers.

Many consumers complained in October and November after insurers notified them that their individual policies were being canceled because they did not cover pre-existing conditions, hospitalization, prescription drugs or seven other basic benefits required under the law. In pitching the overhaul, Obama had long promised that people who liked their policies could keep them.

Then Obama announced Nov. 14 that companies could continue existing policies that don’t meet the minimum requirements if state regulators approved.

Reporting by The Associated Press shows that older policies are being allowed to continue in 36 states, either because officials allowed it after Obama’s announcement, decided not to intervene in any way or had made a decision earlier in the year to extend noncompliant policies for a period of time.

Even so, insurers were given a choice of whether to continue the policies, and some declined to do so.

In Kentucky, insurers Humana, United Healthcare and Assurant chose to extend old policies, while Anthem and Bluegrass Family Health opted against it. Seven companies in South Carolina are extending individual plans the federal law considers substandard, while six companies are extending plans in the small group market. Twenty are not participating.

In North Carolina, only Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which controls about 80 percent of the state’s market for individual and small-business policies, offered to renew plans covering 474,000 people that had been slated for cancellation. North Carolina’s insurance commissioner allowed the company to raise premiums by between 16 percent and 24 percent.

Prices on noncompliant policies are rising in other states, as well. Anthem Blue Cross in Maine plans to raise premiums by an average of 12 percent on its no-longer-canceled policies. The Blue Cross provider in neighboring New Hampshire expects an average 7 percent increase, an amount that is in line with previous years’ premium increases.

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