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States divided on Obama’s plan to allow insurance policy renewals

By Tony Pugh
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON: Across the nation, states are still deciding whether to allow insurers to extend or renew canceled health-insurance policies through 2014, as President Barack Obama requested last week.

While the numbers are changing, it appears that more states are accepting the president’s offer, either by direct action or through previous decisions that allowed early renewal of expiring individual and small-group policies before the president’s “fix” was announced.

Several states are allowing people to renew their insurance policies for 2014 even though they don’t meet the new beefed-up coverage requirements and stronger consumer protections mandated by the Affordable Care Act, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. These include Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

“Some of these are red states, some of these are blue states, but they’re all states that have chosen to take the president up on his offer to try to address this problem that’s plaguing people who received cancellation letters,” Earnest said last week.

But other states like California, New York, Indiana, West Virginia, Washington and Utah have rejected the offer, citing concerns that the move was unnecessary, administratively untenable or could destabilize the insurance risk pools that are used to set premium rates.

“The right way to address this issue is not going to be a blanket same answer across the nation,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange. “It is depending on the circumstances of the state, how it is doing on enrollment, how its website is working and the regulatory environment. I think that would mean there [are] different right answers across the nation.”

Obama called for renewing canceled policies in response to mounting political pressure from Republicans and consumers upset that the cutoffs violated his campaign promise that people who liked their current coverage could keep it once the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act kicked in next year.

Timetables reconsidered

On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced the state would abide by Obama’s request and renew expiring plans.

John Huff, director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, said his department “has not identified any Missouri law prohibiting this coverage to continue, so we will continue to communicate with affected Missouri insurance companies to ensure that the best interests and needs of the consumers are met.”

Delaware’s insurance department reached tentative agreement Thursday with one carrier to allow policy renewals and is discussing a similar deal with others.

Earlier last week, the South Carolina Insurance Department gave providers until Dec. 2 to decide if they’ll extend coverage for about 150,000 state residents facing coverage cancellations next year.

And in Georgia, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, a staunch critic of the Affordable Care Act, was already working with insurers to allow early renewal of expiring 2013 policies because of problems with signups for 2014 coverage on the website.

“When he heard from the majority of [insurers] they were indeed offering that, he was all for it,” said Hudgens’ spokesman, Glenn Allen.

Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arkansas also have allowed early plan renewals, making Obama’s policy adjustment irrelevant in those states.

The board that oversees California’s state-run marketplace voted 5-0 on Thursday not to allow policy renewals for more than 1 million Californians who received cancellation notices. That dovetails with its previous decision prohibiting early renewals of 2013 individual policies that don’t meet the new coverage and consumer protection standards mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Lee, of Covered California, said last week that officials were concerned that the renewed policies could flood the state with “bad coverage” and keep those policyholders out of the new statewide insurance pool created by the marketplace.

However, the decision drew a swift rebuke from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “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 said.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners warned that the renewals could lead to higher premium costs in 2015.