Obama's decision to reinstate canceled plans leads to payer uncertainty, blame

Aetna, Cigna, BCBST, Arches and HCSC respond to yesterday's announcement

President Obama's fix for canceled health plans, which allows insurers to reinstate non-grandfathered plans for at least another year, may be welcome news for some consumers. But it has left insurers facing uncertainty--and blame, payer reps told us in exclusive interviews. 

Health Care Service Corporation said it's working with federal and state regulators to determine next steps to comply with the new proposal while keeping members informed of all coverage options, Lauren Perlstein, HCSC's PR manager, said in an email to FierceHealthPayer.

Cigna supports the move, telling FierceHealthPayer by email that it already gives its comprehensive medical customers the choice to keep existing plans and has valued consumer choice throughout the healthcare debate.

"We believe strongly that if individuals want to keep the plans that they are comfortable with, they should be able to keep those plans," according to the statement.

But as insurers continue to implement healthcare reform provisions, many, including BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, are waiting for regulatory guidance before following Obama's new directive.

"As for the President's remarks, we await a definitive answer in the form of guidance from state and federal regulators to understand precisely how our members and our business are affected," Gary Tanner, a BCBST spokesperson, told FierceHealthPayer.

America's Health Insurance Plans warns that changing the rules after insurers already are implementing healthcare reform provisions will disrupt the market and boost premiums, AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said yesterday in a statement.

Aetna said that although it supports allowing people to keep present plans, it also agrees with AHIP's call for action to address the destabilizing effect of reinstating canceled plans.

The insurer also cited the need for state regulator cooperation and approval to remove barriers to quickly reinstate policies. "State regulators will need to allow us to update our policies and secure appropriate rates so we can get these plans back in the market," Matt Wiggin, an Aetna spokesperson, told FierceHealthPayer by email.

The decision to allow consumer to keep what plans they have could hurt consumer oriented and operated plans (CO-OPs) created under the reform law. For instance, the Utah CO-OP Arches Health Plan applauds Obama heeding the public's concerns but acknowledges that its enrollment will slip.

"Arches, as a start-up health plan, will probably lose some customers. But until we get HealthCare.gov stable we need to make temporary allowances like this and others, such as allowing insurers to enroll people directly so people can get coverage," Shaun Greene, chief operating officer of Arches Health Plan, told FierceHealthPayer.

Moreover, Obama's new directive could shift the blame for cancellations to insurers, The Hill's Healthwatch reported.

To help insurers figure out how minimize disruption for consumers as they transition to new coverage or keep existing coverage, Obama will meet with health insurance executives today at the White House, according to another Healthwatch article.

For more:
- here's the AHIP statement
- read the Healthwatch articles on blame and the meeting

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