Covered California declines Obama offer to keep plans

SACRAMENTO -- Covered California today said it would decline President Obama's offer to let states continue to offer individual health policies that were terminated because they didn't meet minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act, joining a handful of states like Washington and Massachusetts in staying the course with its implementation of health care reform.

The decision by Covered California, the state's online health exchange established under the federal health overhaul, defied the request of Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who last week called on insurance carriers and Covered California to allow the canceled health plans of about 1.1 million consumers to be grandfathered for another year.

"Covered California's decision is a disservice to California consumers," Mr. Jones said at a press conference in response to the exchange's board voting 5-0 to not allow the old plans. Mr. Jones also disputed the notion that allowing old plans would harm the exchange's risk pool, saying the Affordable Care Act has "robust features which mitigate the risk of health insurers having a disproportionate share of sick people in their risk pool in 2014."

Mr. Jones, a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, pointed to the fact that small businesses are able to renew their policies, so long as they renew early, for plans that similarly don't meet all requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and that the same extension should be granted to some 1.1 million indvidiual policy holders who are seeing their plans ended effective Dec. 31. 2013.

But insurance representatives across the state, including the California Association of Health Plans, had urged the exchange to decline the president's offer, saying the sudden shift in differing policies would put significant pressure on insurers and would be disruptive for a market that has adapted to the reform-driven landscape.

"Covered California made the best decision for consumers by supporting the success of our new health insurance marketplace” Patrick Johnston, president and CEO of the Association of Health Plans, said in a statement. "Today’s decision comes with a renewed effort to ease the transition  process for consumers in the form of a five-step action plan focusing on extending deadlines and increasing enrollment assistance. “Health plans will work closely with Covered California to ensure consumers fully understand their options, take advantage of subsidies and get the comprehensive health coverage that they need."

The exchange also agreed to extend the deadline to Dec. 26 for purchasing coverage effective in the new year, from Dec. 15.

Mr. Johnston also said California, like several other states that declined to grandfather old health plans and are running their own exchange, is fairing far better than the federal health exchange,, which has been beset by glitches and low enrollment figures. The federal exchange is geared toward states that opted not to set up their own online exchanges.

To that end, Covered California today also said it has enrolled nearly 80,000 individuals across the state as of Nov. 19. In the North Bay, designated as region 2 out of 19, a total of 1,570 people have enrolled in plans across Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties as of Oct. 31.Of that North Bay total, 245 people qualified for a subsidy. In Sonoma County alone it is estimated there are an estimated 30,000 uninsured people who could quality for coverage under Covered California.

In region 1, which includes Mendocino, Lake and other northern counties, a total of 1,148 people have enrolled into health plans, including 162 who qualified for a subsidy.

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