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Florida Regulator, Blues Plan Agree To Insurance Fix Proposed By Obama

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said he will allow insurers to adopt President Barack Obama’s plan to extend current policies facing cancellation so that consumers can keep the coverage they have now. In fact, he was permitting plans to do that months before the president suggested it.

Most carriers will be unaffected because the state had already allowed Aetna, Humana, Coventry and Cigna to offer members the option of renewing their 2013 policies before the end of this year to avoid having to add the new benefits and higher costs associated with the Affordable Care Act. Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, was one big exception.

The proposal deals with policies purchased by individuals, not those provided through an employer.

Hours after Obama’s announcement Thursday, however, the state’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliate said it planned to follow the president’s suggestion to extend policies, starting with 40,000 policyholders who were being canceled at the end of December. Eventually, all of its 300,000 policyholders could be given the same option when their policies expire next year.

McCarty said Florida Blue would not raise rates on policyholders whose coverage was slated to end in December because it’s too late for the insurer to meet the state’s 45 days notice requirement to consumers.

Florida Blue Senior Vice President Jon Urbanek said many of policies being canceled in December offered limited benefits, for instance, covering hospital care only or physician care only.

Florida Blue will allow members to continue their existing coverage or explore new plan options under the health law.  Affected members will receive letters informing them that they can keep their current plans through 2014.  The company is examining the impact on small group plans.

McCarty, an outspoken critic of the health law, said he did not know how many policyholders in Florida have taken insurers up on offers to renew their current policies before the end of the year. He said several other states, including Arkansas and Mississippi, have offered insurers and policyholders the same options.

The president’s plan to extend 2013 policies into next year should have been done months ago, he said. “At best, it’s a temporary fix because this just kicks the can down the road,” in terms of letting policyholders hold onto their current plans.

McCarty worries the strategy will impact insurers selling coverage in the federal insurance marketplace because they might be left with older, sicker enrollees. That could drive up costs and lead to higher premiums in 2015, he said.