Obamacare announcement 'causing a lot of confusion,' insurance commissioner says

2013-11-14T18:30:00Z 2013-11-15T16:11:10Z Obamacare announcement 'causing a lot of confusion,' insurance commissioner saysBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
November 14, 2013 6:30 pm  • 

HELENA — The Obama administration’s attempt Thursday to allow people to keep old health-insurance plans slated for cancellation is creating more confusion in an already tumultuous market, Montana’s insurance commissioner said.

“This really does kind of turn everything on its head, in terms of how we’ve been operating for the past three-and-a-half years,” said Monica Lindeen, a Democrat. “This is causing a lot of confusion for all of the (health insurance) markets across Montana.”

Montana’s major health insurers — who sent cancellation notices to as many as 20,000 individual policyholders a few weeks ago — also said Thursday they’re not sure how or whether they can take those back.

“How do you implement it this late in the game?” said Todd Lovshin, Montana vice president for PacificSource. “There are a lot of determinations that we need to know before we as a company know what to do.”

The policies are scheduled for cancellation because they don’t meet new, 2014 requirements under the Affordable Care Act, known popularly as “Obamacare.”

President Barack Obama, facing mounting criticism over cancellation of individual and small-business policies that won’t comply with the ACA, announced Thursday a “transitional policy” allowing insurers to continue to sell those plans through September of next year.

Consumers are supposed to be able to buy new, compliant policies through the online marketplace, but the federally run marketplace in Montana and 35 others states has barely been working.

Lindeen’s office estimated that cancellation notices went to policyholders affecting about 26,000 people in Montana — a small piece of the overall health insurance marketplace in the state.

While the president’s announcement intends to allow health insurers to keep selling old plans, instead of canceling them, Lindeen said it raises multiple questions about how companies or her office should proceed.

For example, insurers, knowing they had to have ACA-compliant policies for 2014, did not price their old plans for next year.

If they’re going to continue to offer those plans starting in January, they must calculate the cost and submit the price to Lindeen’s office for review — a process that can take several months.

Lindeen said she’s asking Montana’s insurers what they plan to do, before she decides what her authority may be.

Lovshin said his company is assessing what’s possible and what the regulations allow, before deciding what to do. It has been sending notices to about 5,000 affected policyholders, telling them they must get a new, ACA-compliant policy when their policy expires within the next year.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the state’s largest private health insurer, also said it’s reviewing the president’s announcement.

“We will continue to work with the federal and state government on how this approach will be implemented,” said John Doran, director of strategic marketing services for Blue Cross. “Soon, we will be reaching out to consumers who will have new options as a result of this announcement.”

Blue Cross sent notices to about 13,500 policyholders this fall, telling them their old policy was being discontinued as of January, and that they should buy new ones.

Lindeen also said she’s been telling consumers who received cancellation notices they don’t have to take the replacement offered by the company, but can shop around for a better deal, and see if they qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for the new policy.

However, one can’t get a subsidy without using the online marketplace — and the website in Montana hasn’t been working well, which is a problem, Lindeen said.

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