Idahoans forced to pick new insurance

Plans are changing for most residents covered by the state’s largest insurers.

adutton@idahostatesman.comNovember 1, 2013 

Many Idahoans’ now-extinct insurance plans are at the center of national news and a piece of legislation backed by Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. That’s because the plans were issued or changed after the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010.

About 15,000 individuals covered by Blue Cross of Idaho and 2,500 individuals covered by Regence BlueShield of Idaho can keep their existing plans.

Those plans are grandfathered into the new system, which requires health insurers to offer a minimum set of benefits, including many preventive care services.

For those grandfathered plans, insurers will continue to charge premiums based on gender, medical history and other factors. For new plans, insurers can consider nothing but tobacco use, age and geographic location when setting prices.

TENS OF THOUSANDS IN IDAHO MUST DECIDE

Other consumers — about 85 percent of Regence members and two-thirds of Blue Cross members — who had individual plans won’t lose coverage. But they must choose between:

-- Buying a new plan. If purchased on Idaho’s health insurance exchange, that plan may come with subsidies to lower the premium.

-- Defaulting to the lowest-price, lowest-value plan offered by the insurer — without subsidies to lower the premium, since the plan isn’t purchased through the exchange.

IDAHO SENATORS WANT LAW AMENDED

Health insurers in Idaho knew the changes were coming for people whose plans were issued in the gap period between 2010 and now.

Crapo and others have criticized President Obama this week for campaigning on the Affordable Care Act with the promise that Americans who liked their insurance plan could keep it.

“Millions of Americans were misled,” Crapo said in a news release. “For many Americans, that is not the case. Obamacare regulations require that certain plans provide a different coverage package even if an individual does not need or want it. Idahoans are now learning that the flawed health care law will force them to change their plans and, in many cases, pay higher premiums.”

Crapo and Risch are cosponsors of a bill by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson that would allow people to keep existing insurance policies.

Obama countered that criticism Wednesday in a speech in Boston, saying fewer than 5 percent of Americans had “cut-rate plans that don’t offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident.”

Consumers who liked those plans but now are losing them can “just shop around in the new marketplace,” which so far has struggled with enrollment glitches.

WORRIED YOU’LL LOSE YOUR PLAN?

Idaho consumers whose plans are disappearing will receive letters from insurance companies about 90 days before the policy ends. And that’s just the bare minimum.

Blue Cross has done two mailings, will do two more and will attempt to contact members by phone, spokeswoman Karen Early said.

Yourhealthidaho.org, the insurance exchange where consumers can buy new plans, has added a feature that lets consumers window shop for plans before trying to enroll.

The exchange also offers in-person assistance and telephone assistance for people who cannot enroll online.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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