Insurance commissioner urges carriers to continue coverage after president's plea

Published On: Dec 24 2013 11:31:29 AM HST   Updated On: Nov 16 2013 01:03:08 AM HST

On the heels of President Barack Obama's announcement Thursday that Americans who like their non-compliant health plans can keep them for another year, Hawaii Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito is urging the state's five local carriers to comply.

"We have proceeded ahead and have consulted with our health insurance companies to have them consider continuing their existing plans," Ito told reporters during a Friday news conference.

However, Ito's request is completely voluntary. Hawaii Family Health, HMSA, HMAA Kaiser Permanente and UHA don't have to comply.

"It's not a mandatory requirement, it's a voluntary requirement," said Ito.

According to Ito, as many as 30,000 individual health plans in Hawaii don't comply with the president's Affordable Care Act, and another 140,000 plans obtained through small businesses of 50 employees or less are also impacted.  

Late Friday, HMSA announced it would comply with Ito's request to continue coverage of plans that don't meet ACA requirements. That means about 12,400 individual plan members and 8,000 small business members can keep their current health policies for another year.  

"Our individual plan members who don't choose a new ACA plan by Dec. 15 will be re-enrolled in their current plan in December for another year to ensure they don't lose coverage," Elisa Yadao, HMSA senior vice president of consumer experience, said in a statement.

However, other insurance carriers are still deciding whether to comply with the insurance commissioner's request.

"We are still looking at the feasibility of executing the Insurance Commissioner's request.  Changes of this kind, this far in to the process, if not handled carefully, could cause further problems, which is the last thing anyone wants to happen," read a statement Friday from Kaiser Permanente.

UHA also weighed in late Friday, saying it's taking a wait-and-see approach.

"The health insurance environment is exceedingly complex and we are monitoring the development of new regulations on both the federal and state levels to determine the best course of action for our 52,000-plus members," Lance Kaneshiro, UHA's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what impact the insurance commissioner's request will have on the Hawaii Health Connector, the state's health insurance exchange. The Connector was counting on individuals with non-ACA-compliant health plans to participate in the exchange. The Connector set the ambitious goal of signing up as many as 100,000 Hawaii residents by the end of 2014, and becoming self-sufficient by Jan.1, 2015.

On Friday, the Connector released the first official number on how many people have completed the application process through the exchange, and the official tally was not promising. Only 257 individuals have had applications forwarded to insurance carriers through the exchange. Another 113 businesses submitted applications for health coverage but employees have not chosen a plan.

"If the numbers don't pick up, there's no way it will be self-sufficient, so we need people to engage," said Sen. Josh Green.

Ito said he expects insurers who continue to offer non-ACA-compliant plans to request a rate increase, which may complicate matters even further.

"What happened (Thursday) really is going to create more confusion, not only for the consumers and businesses, but also us as regulators and also the insurer," said Ito.


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