COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina’s insurance agency says 144,000 people with previously canceled health insurance policies can renew their plans, following President Obama’s reversal last month on part of the federal health care law.
Fifteen companies have informed the Insurance Department they will participate in the optional extension of plans the federal law considers substandard. They cover 59,000 people in the individual market and 85,000 people in small group policies. Fourteen carriers are not participating, leaving about 53,000 people with policies ending in 2014, said Director Ray Farmer.
A backlash over termination notices received by millions of policyholders nationwide prompted Obama to reverse course and declare that insurers could extend coverage for a year, if the state allowed it. Some states led by Democrats rejected the president’s proposal.
But in Republican-led South Carolina, the state Insurance Department promptly issued guidelines for doing so, which included a Dec. 2 notification deadline. That deadline is flexible, however, and insurers can still choose to extend coverage, Farmer said.
“Our goal still is to help our companies help our citizens who are looking for coverage and to work with those companies to eliminate any confusion,” he said.
Participating companies include the state’s largest insurer, BlueCross Blue Shield of South Carolina, and its associate, BlueChoice HealthPlan.
Letters went out this week to eligible customers. The option gives them more time to prepare for the changes required in the federal law, said David Pankau, BlueCross president and CEO.
He called it the “right thing to do.”
The two companies are among insurers allowing a payment to suffice as a renewal notice — an option the state gave companies in its guidelines as a way to make it “extremely easy for the policyholder,” Farmer said.
Guidelines issued a week later by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services called for policyholders to inform their carrier in writing of their decision. But South Carolina was allowed to stick to its directions.
“We did exactly what they asked us to do. We handled it,” Farmer said. “You can’t come back a week later and say, ‘But handle it this way too.’”
Being able to keep a plan doesn’t necessarily mean the premiums will stay the same. Some participating companies will require a premium adjustment. That’s up to the insurer, he said.
Not all of those 53,000 will have to shop for another policy, he said.
Some companies not participating are offering customers another option to extend coverage beyond when their policy would otherwise end. If they renew early, by Dec. 31, then they can keep that plan through 2014. It would expire one year after their renewal date.