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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Consumers Need Protection from Health Insurance Company Plan Year Manipulation


It was disappointing—infuriating actually—to learn that some of the nation’s health insurance companies are trying to take advantage of their current customers by manipulating plan years. They are doing so to avoid having to pass on to these customers the benefits of national health reform.

These insurers are reaching out to current customers, taking advantage of their uncertainties, and luring them to switch to health plan years that begin in 2013. By substituting 2013 plans for their current plans that run through early 2014, customers will lose important Affordable Care Act (ACA) protections that must apply to plans issued on or after January 1, 2014. For example, plans issued in 2014 must offer a comprehensive range of benefits and have rates based only on the customer’s age, geographic location, number in family, and tobacco usage. Discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions is banned by federal law in 2014 plans. Health insurance insider turned critic, Wendell Potter, recently wrote in detail about this outrage in the Huffington Post.

So insurers are trying to have the best of both worlds. They want all the goodies the ACA offers them, including hundreds of millions of new customers (many of whom will only be able to afford coverage because they qualify for the federal financial help in the form of advance premium tax credits and cost sharing subsidies available under the ACA), but they also want to deprive their existing customers of the benefit of ACA reforms.

Fortunately, insurance regulators can and are protecting customers from such manipulation. Illinois Department of Insurance Director Andrew Boron issued Bulletin 2013-07 on April 29, 2013, telling Illinois health insurers that they won’t get away with such manipulation. “The Department will not approve…filings for such arrangements,” the bulletin says. That should bring these threatened manipulations to an end in Illinois, and we hope regulators in other states take similar actions.

Health insurance has been baffling to most individuals and small businesses. The federal government, many states, and many non-profit organizations are working hard to inform citizens of the reforms, benefits, and opportunities the Affordable Care Act has already brought and the major improvements coming in 2014. Actions like these plan date manipulations simply have no place in the picture. Thank goodness regulators can and are stepping it to ensure a happy ending.

Margaret Stapleton

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