Politics & Government

Another California health insurer offers cancellation delay

As turmoil over terminated health insurance policies continues across the nation, Anthem Blue Cross of California on Tuesday became the latest company to grant a brief extension to some of its customers.

The company announced the move after failing to issue timely notices, allowing roughly 104,000 consumers with expiring policies to keep their coverage through Feb. 28. Typically, only those who purchased plans before the March 2010 passage of the federal health care law meet the cutoff for “grandfathered” status.

“The affected members were inadvertently omitted from the original mailing,” said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross.

Policyholders have until Dec. 15 to notify the company to temporarily extend their plans.

Upward of 1 million Californians are receiving letters informing them their plans do not comply with the federal health care overhaul. Officials from the state exchange, Covered California, estimate that nearly 600,000 people who buy their own insurance plans should expect to pay more.

Millions more nationwide are having similar experiences, prompting an apology from President Barack Obama who for years promised that those who like their policies would be able to keep them. In an interview published Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton said Obama should “honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got.”

White House officials have said they are exploring administrative options.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was cosponsoring legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that would let those who purchased coverage after the passage of the health care law hold onto the plans unless their insurer pulls out of the individual market.

“The Affordable Care Act is a good law, but it is not perfect,” Feinstein said. “I believe the Landrieu bill is a common-sense fix that will protect individuals in the private insurance market from being forced to change their insurance plan. I hope Congress moves quickly to enact it.”

Feinstein’s support, the first from a senator representing a deep blue state, underscores the discomfort among some Democrats with the health law’s uneven rollout, including computer glitches that have hobbled early enrollment in several states.

In California, those with terminated policies are being given the option to enroll in comparable plans – with some qualifying for subsidies. Amid the backlash, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is conducting a review to ensure that customers were given enough notice in advance of the Dec. 31 terminations.

Jones and Blue Shield of California last week announced a settlement that will allow roughly 113,000 customers in 80,000 households to remain on their plans for an extra three months. The company agreed to the extension after Jones threatened to sue over customers not receiving a 180-day notice.

On Tuesday, Jones said if all of the Anthem policyholders in question kept their current plans they would save about $23 million through February.

Neither California nor federal law requires insurers to cancel non-compliant individual plans by Dec. 31. That decision was made by the state insurance exchange working with the insurers.

“I have opposed the (Dec. 31, 2013) cancellations from the moment when they were first proposed,” Jones said, referring to proposals when he served in the Legislature. “But the law doesn’t give me the power to stop them unless it’s related to the notice requirements as it was here.”

Still, Jones is taking heat from an opponent for backing customers in their plight to remain on their plans while maintaining support for the federal law.

“When it comes to healthcare reform implementation, Jones’ hypocrisy knows no bounds,” said Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, who is mounting his own campaign for insurance commissioner. “Last month, Jones was bragging about the ‘historic’ beginning of Covered California and his critical role in its implementation since he was sworn in to office in 2011. Now, just six weeks after his political grandstanding on this issue, Jones is pointing the finger of blame at everyone but himself for the failures he should have seen coming months ago.”

The health care law requires nearly everyone to obtain insurance or pay a penalty. The first open-enrollment period extends through March 31, but those looking to avoid lapses must purchase plans by Dec. 15 for coverage by Jan. 1.

Health care advocates believe even customers getting temporary reprieves may be better served by exploring their options on the exchange and elsewhere, where they could purchase more comprehensive plans and possibly qualify under the state’s expansion of Medi-Cal.