Insurers, Consumers Split on Obamacare Executive Orders

Kevin Glass

12/27/2013 11:55:00 AM - Kevin Glass
Delays, reprieves and "un-cancelled" health plans have defined Obamacare's previous two months. President Obama has used his executive power liberally, sprinkling his complex health law with different rules for different people, to the confusion and trepidation of insurance companies and consumers. The executive actions have turned a law that was already complicated into a jumbled mess, and it's hard to figure out who qualifies for what insurance now.

President Obama's announcement that insurers would still be legally allowed to sell "non-compliant" plans that did not conform to Obamacare's individual mandates continued a whirlwind of executive orders in which insurance companies would be allowed - but not ordered - to continue selling the plans that Obamacare cancelled. Individuals who have had their plans cancelled are also being exempted from the individual mandate - meaning they can buy non-compliant plans or refrain from paying the mandate tax entirely.

Insurers and consumers have been left in the lurch.

The Associated Press tracked down some of the people and insurance companies who have been affected:

In Kentucky, insurers Humana, United Healthcare and Assurant chose to extend old policies while Anthem and Bluegrass Family Health opted against it. Seven companies in South Carolina are extending individual plans the federal law considers substandard, while six companies are extending plans in the small group market. Twenty are not participating.

In North Carolina, only Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which controls about 80 percent of the state's market for individual and small-business policies, offered to renew plans covering 474,000 people that had been slated for cancellation. North Carolina's insurance commissioner allowed the company to raise premiums by between 16 percent and 24 percent.

Sabrina Corlette, project director at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, warns that Obama's decision last month could allow younger people with relatively few health problems to stay on bare-bones policies. That could lead to higher premiums in 2015 to offset insurers' cost of covering people with more health problems, she said.

Early renewals are allowing 60-year-old artist Marlys Dietrick of San Antonio and her 21-year-old son to stay in their old policies. Dietrick jumped at the chance when Humana offered in October to renew her expiring, high-deductible policy early for $315 a month — an increase of about $15. She and her son both must spend $7,000 per year on medical bills to meet a deductible before the company starts paying.

"I'm not saying I loved my insurance. I'm just saying I was able to keep the costs down by being able to tailor it to me and my needs," she said. "I'm 60. I don't need maternity. I don't need pediatric. I'm healthy, I don't need drug coverage. I don't need mental health. There's like five things that allowed me to keep my costs down. I was able to pick-and-choose."

The complexity of Obamacare has only been made worse since the October 1 go-live date on Healthcare.gov. "What we're discovering is that," President Obama once said, "insurance is complicated to buy." He's making it worse.