States will be the ultimate determinant as to whether they will allow insurers to renew existing health insurances plans in 2014 even though these policies may not comply with the new Affordable Care Act, President Obama and state insurance regulators agreed at a White House meeting last night.
The meeting with several insurance commissioners and Ben Nelson, chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, was held as the White House continued its efforts to smooth the troubled political waters caused by the rocky rollout of the federal exchange that will be used by residents of 36 states to buy individual and small group policies mandated by the law.
The state regulators used the occasion to raise other issues with the president, including their relationship with federal insurance regulators given a voice in insurance regulation left to the states for 150 years. A major issue brought up with the president was the role they want to play in establishing international insurance standards.
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As for the healthcare, law, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, everyone must have health insurance by March 31, 2014, or pay a penalty. However, the exchange website unveiled Oct. 1 has proved unequal to its task, and there are questions whether it will be fully up to speed by the end of the month, as promised by the administration.
The inability of people to access the website, plus the realization that the president’s commitment to allow everyone to “keep their existing policies if they like them” contradicts the law’s mandate that each insurance policy must contain certain essential benefits, has generated a major political problem for the president.
These essential benefits include providing insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, free preventative care, maternity coverage and other benefits. Also included is a requirement to provide contraceptives for women.
However, the realization that most existing policies didn’t include such benefits created a major practical problem as insurers notified thousands of affected consumers that their existing policies would be cancelled.
As the meeting was being held, CareFirst BlueCross Blue Shield, which serves Maryland, announced that it would allow more than 55,000 policyholders to retain their policies for one year even though the policies don’t contain some of the essential benefits mandated by the new law. CareFirst acted one day after the Maryland insurance commissioner said he would approve such action. Other health insurers in the state said they would also do so; others said they would not.
Other states, like Florida, said they would also allow consumers to keep their existing policies for one year. But, others, like New York, Washington and Indiana, said they would not comply. California Insurance Department officials said they would announce their decision today.