Non-Obamacare health plan options extended, but impact ‘unclear’

    Individuals who buy insurance on their own and want to keep their current plan, even if it does not meet new Affordable Care Act requirements, may now be able to do so beyond next year’s initial termination date. Officials said this week that insurers can now extend non-compliant ACA plans for another two years, into 2017.

     

    “I think consumers will find it very confusing. I find it confusing and I study this for a living,” said Bob Town, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School.

    Town said it’s too soon to know how the policy will affect consumers, insurers and local markets. “The ball keeps moving, insurers were making plans, given one set of rules, and now the rules are changing,” he said Thursday.

    Last fall, the administration gave insurers the option to extend plans for another year, beyond the initial Jan. 1, 2014, termination date, in response to complaints that people would be forced off of their current plans.

    But some companies scrapped the plans anyway, including all but one in New Jersey. Philadelphia’s largest insurer, Independence Blue Cross, offered extensions at that time. It’s also up to states to first decide whether to allow the plans to continue. Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey all gave the OK last fall.  

    But even when given the choice, it’s unclear whether consumers might prefer noncompliant ACA plans compared with new options found on exchanges, Town said.

    “The plans that are mostly cancelled were much less generous than, say, the bronze plans they can find on the exchange,” said Town. “I think the plans generally not allowed under the ACA were those that had very high deductibles and would cover you only if you had a large number of expenditures.”

    An administration official told reporters this week that about half a million individuals and a million small businesses currently have noncompliant ACA plans.

    One deadline that’s not changing: March 31 of this year. That’s when sign-up closes for those wanting ACA health coverage this year. Miss that date, and you’ll have to wait till November to enroll in coverage for next year. There’s one exception: a major life change, like losing your current health coverage.

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