WSJ: More lawmakers, states gently urging insurers to extend soon-to-be cancelled policies

With their online marketplace still in a state of virtual chaos, the state of Vermont has already bitten the bullet and enacted an emergency provision to allow individuals who buy their own insurance as well as small businesses to extend their current coverage plans until March 31st, despite their intended December 31st expiration dates. Insurance carriers and state officials are still figuring out exactly how to appropriately execute that extension, but Vermont isn’t the only one suddenly feeling a little shifty about the requirements they were planning to force upon the individually insured in due time.

The WSJ reports that a growing number of federal lawmakers and state officials are stepping up the pressure on insurers to allow consumers whose plans have been canceled in response to ObamaCare to keep their policies past their end-of-year expiration dates:

On Tuesday, one of the largest regional health plans in the nation, Blue Shield of California, said it would relax its stance on terminated policies for about 115,000 people after state regulators demanded it do so. Customers now will have until March to decide which plan to choose for 2014, a three-month extension. Because the newer plans generally cost more, the extension could save residents as much as $28.6 million on premiums, said Dave Jones, California’s insurance commissioner.

“For 115,000 people, they get additional time to decide what’s best for them and their families,” he told reporters Tuesday. The California Department of Insurance is reviewing termination letters sent by other insurers in the state to decide whether other companies need to offer consumers similar extensions, Mr. Jones said.

The move by Mr. Jones, an elected Democrat, comes as some other Democrats are seeking ways to allow individual policyholders to keep their current health plans and to defuse the issue of canceled plans, which has become a headache for supporters of the law. …

A Blue Shield spokesman said the three-month extension in California “is a bad idea for consumers.” Some could have to pay a deductible twice next year, because they would be enrolled in separate plans for 2014, he added.

Yes, “additional time to decide what’s best for them and their families” is certainly one lovely euphemistic way to put it, but the real problem, of course, is that people are getting kicked off of their insurance plans right and left, and even in California, their exchange process still isn’t a perfectly seamless one. Nationwide, the WSJ points out that as many as 10 million Americans who buy their own coverage directly from insurance are expected to have their plans cancelled on January 1st or after, and they can hardly be expected to slog through the mire of glitches and uncertainty still plaguing the federal exchange and to buy new plans before then. Federal lawmakers have been coming up with bills to deal with the cancellations on Capitol Hill, but it might only be a matter of time before more states start to push their insurance companies for plan extensions, too.

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