COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s insurance agency says 144,000 people with previously canceled health insurance policies can renew their plans following President Obama’s reversal last month on part of the federal health care law.
Fifteen companies have told the Insurance Department that they will participate in the optional extension of plans the federal law considers substandard. They cover 59,000 people in the individual market and 85,000 people in small group policies. Fourteen carriers are not participating, leaving about 53,000 people with policies ending in 2014, Director Ray Farmer said.
A backlash over termination notices received by millions of policyholders nationwide led Obama to reverse course and declare that insurers could extend coverage for a year, if the state allowed it.
Some states led by Democrats rejected the proposal, but in Republican-led South Carolina, the state Insurance Department promptly issued guidelines for doing so, which included a Dec. 2 notification deadline. That deadline is flexible, however, Farmer said.
“Our goal still is to help our companies help our citizens who are looking for coverage and to work with those companies to eliminate any confusion,” he said.
Participating companies include the state’s largest insurer, BlueCross Blue Shield of South Carolina, and its associate, BlueChoice HealthPlan.
Letters went out this week to eligible customers. The option gives them more time to prepare for the changes required in the federal law, said David Pankau, BlueCross’ president and CEO.
Customers who want to keep their coverage don’t need to do anything, a release said.
South Carolina gave companies the option of letting a payment suffice as a renewal notice, as a way to make it “extremely easy for the policyholder,” Farmer said.
Guidelines issued a week later by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services called for policyholders to inform their carrier in writing of their decision. South Carolina was allowed to stick to its directions.
“We did exactly what they asked us to do. We handled it,” Farmer said.
Being able to keep a plan doesn’t necessarily mean the premiums will stay the same. Some participating companies will require a premium adjustment.
Not all of those 53,000 will have to shop for another policy, Farmer said. Some companies are offering customers another option to extend coverage beyond when their policy would otherwise end. If they renew early, by Dec. 31, they can keep that plan through 2014. It would expire one year after their renewal date.