California’s decision on plan extensions…

Yesterday, Covered California voted to provide more direct outreach and assistance to Californians who need to switch health plans at the end of the year. A special hotline number will be extended for consumers impacted, to walk them through their options:

HELP WITH NEW OPTIONS: Cancellations aren’t new but have been a regular practice of insurers in the individual insurance market–the average person is on a plan in the individual insurance market for less than two years. What’s new is the federal health law offers the ability for consumers to shop around with new options, and the board action is to better help these consumers know about their new options and benefits. For those in these plans sold after the passage of the law, there is likely a better deal in Covered California, and that remains true.”

RATE RELIEF STILL NEEDED: An extension for a year would not have provided the relief that these consumers needed, since it likely would included a rate increase, if the insurer had decided to extend  the plan in the first place. An extension would have been logistically difficult and created consumer confusion without actually solving the main issue for those impacted. The real issue for consumers is less about whether people keep their plans, but affordability–and how to provide targeted relief to the less than 1% of the population above four times the poverty level who may be seeing a higher-than-normal rate increase (as opposed to the many seeing decreases). An extension doesn’t solve for that–yet that’s more important for these consumers than whether they keep their plan at any cost.

OTHER SOLUTIONS: Health Access will advocate for other ways to provide some targeted relief to these couple of hundred thousand Californians, less than 1% of CA, while continuing the momentum to get the significant help and benefits the ACA offers to millions of Californians and the health system on which we all rely. These solutions are unfortunately outside the scope of the Exchange, but have precedent, such as the emergency legislation California passed to provide short-term coverage to resolve early issues with Medicare Part D. We have advocated in local, state and federal health reform efforts that there be some assistance targeted even over 400% of the poverty level, especially in a high cost-of-living state like California. Vermont and Massachusetts augments the financial assistance provided by the federal government. Resources could be set aside for those over 400% FPL, just like in the Schwarzenegger/Nunez health reform proposal in 2008.