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Obama’s promise to keep old health plans meets uncertainty in Alaska

By Matthew F. Smith 2:16 AM November 16, 2013

President allows insurers to reinstate canceled policies, but state Division of Insurance unsure if it will take him up on the offer

ANCHORAGE – It’s a promise President Barack Obama made often about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare: “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”

The president on Thursday attempted to make good on that promise, by allowing insurance companies the option to keep offering plans — that would have otherwise been canceled — through 2014. It was unclear, however, if Alaskans who lost their coverage will be able to go back to their old plans.

Division of Insurance Director Bret Kolb said in a phone interview Thursday that it’s too early to know how the state will officially respond to the change. He said the division is looking into questions of compliance at both the state and federal levels, and just “doesn’t know” if Alaska will allow insurers to revive canceled policies.

In an email, Kolb wrote that the division saw “more than 9,000” plans canceled as a result of new health care laws. For the most part, cancelations happened when old plans didn’t offer the essential health benefits required under the Affordable Care Act. Those benefits include coverage for prescription medications, mental health services, trips to the emergency room and more.

Providers looking to offer previously canceled plans will have to make clear what the plans don’t cover. They’ll also have to let consumers know what other options are available in the federal marketplace atHealthCare.gov.

At end of 2012, Kolb wrote that the state Division of Insurance had 14,500 people covered under individual policies, and more than 17,000 people under small group policies, regulated by the state. (Many other private insurance plans are not state regulated). The 9,000 cancelations were all from individual policyholders.

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is the state’s largest insurer. They offered about 9,200 individual policies in Alaska, 5,400 of which were canceled. The remaining 3,800 were “grandfathered in” to the new laws.

Each state can choose whether or not they’ll let canceled plans be reinstated. In Washington state, the message was a resounding “no.” Plans canceled there will stay canceled.

But on Thursday that decision had not yet been made in Alaska. If Alaskans want insurance by the start of the new year, they’ll have to enroll in a program — on the federal HealthCare.gov website or with another insurer — by Dec. 15. Open enrollment on the federal marketplace remains open through the end of March.

Enroll Alaska is a private insurance broker, working as a liaison between insurance companies and individuals. The company also works to help people and families choose insurance plans, whether they’re offered on or off the federal exchange.

Tyann Boling, the company’s COO, said Thursday that a canceled plan is a chance for people to re-examine their options.

“Individuals who had insurance policies that were canceled, there’s an opportunity there,” she said. “That individual may have been qualified for immediate tax subsidies, and they wouldn’t know that unless they contacted us or went through HealthCare.gov.”

Boling said knowing what kind of plans are being offered — and just how much federal assistance there may be to help pay for them — can help people choose.

“Regardless of what the Division of Insurance [decides], for Enroll Alaska, we can still work with individuals to see if they qualify for that immediate tax subsidy, that cash in hand, to pay for their insurance,” she said. “Then we would encourage them to enroll in a plan.”

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