(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

President Obama announced Thursday morning that insurance companies now have the option to offer renewals to people whose plans were cancelled.

But that doesn’t mean insurance companies are required to take the president up on his offer.

Patrick Johnston, CEO of California Association of Health Plans, said in a statement that California “needs to stay the course and transition people into the more comprehensive policies that meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.”

He also pointed out that contracts with Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, “require all non-grandfathered health plans to be ACA compliant by 2014.”

But California’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones is taking the opposite approach. In a press conference, he said he asked Covered California on Thursday to release insurers from their contracts to cancel non-ACA compliant policies by Dec. 31.

Jones has long argued that consumers should be allowed to keep their plans through 2014. In recent weeks, he fought first Blue Shield and more recently Anthem Blue Cross which, he says, gave insufficient notice of cancellation of some consumers’ plans.

But Jones lacks authority under state or federal law to force plans to permit consumers to renew. That decision appears to be up to Covered California, which issued an exceptionally brief statement of its own Thursday afternoon — just two lines:

We are assessing the impact and analyzing our options on how Covered California will incorporate this modification into our existing policy and direction.

Covered California understands the urgent need for clarity around this segment of policy and is working closely with health plans, regulators, and policy makers to quickly determine how the President’s new guidance will be fulfilled for Californians.

Roughly 2 million people currently purchase insurance in California’s individual market and about half of them have received cancellation notices. Still, at least some of those people whose policies were cancelled will see better options in terms of benefits and/or costs on the Covered California marketplace. In addition, 5.5 million Californians are uninsured.

California’s current individual market is healthier than the population as a whole. If people in the current pool were allowed to renew their current policies, that would keep them out of the Covered California risk pool and potentially destabilize the insurance market.

Chris Rauber at the San Francisco Business Times cites Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans:

Premiums for next year’s policies have already been set, Ignagni said, “based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new (Obamacare exchange) marketplace,” and indicated a fear that if fewer young, healthy people sign up on Healthcare.gov and state exchanges (like Covered California) premiums will jump and the number of options for consumers will shrink.

“Additional steps must be taken to stabilize the marketplace and mitigate the adverse impact on consumers,” Ignagni concluded.

Should be pretty interesting to see how this all shakes out in the coming days.

Can You Renew Your Policy? Nobody Knows Yet 18 November,2013Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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