South Carolina braces for loss of health insurers

COLUMBIA — A dozen insurers no longer will write health policies in South Carolina, affecting more than 30,000 people, according to the state Insurance Department.

Agency spokeswoman Ann Roberson said insurers cited the federal health care overhaul in abandoning the state’s individual or small group market.

State law requires companies to notify the agency only if they’re discontinuing policies in an entire market segment.

Director Ray Farmer said those notices helped him estimate that more than 150,000 South Carolinians overall are being forced from their policies.

Last week, his agency issued guidelines for insurers wanting to extend coverage to clients who previously received termination notices.

Millions of policyholders nationwide have received such notices, despite President Obama’s repeated promise that those who like their health plans would be able to keep it under the 2010 overhaul. People learned that, to keep coverage, they needed to switch to a more comprehensive, and often more expensive, policy that complies with the federal law.

The backlash over canceled plans, including from his own party, caused Obama to take administrative action to let insurers continue for a year policies that the law considered substandard.

Farmer said last week that departing companies don’t have that option, because state law bars them from writing policies in the abandoned segment for five years. But Roberson said Monday that they too are invited to participate.

The agency has given insurers until Dec. 2 to decide.

A spokeswoman for HealthMarkets Inc. said its subsidiaries, which notified the state and policyholders in June of their departure plans, are instead considering extending through 2014 policies that don’t meet the federal law’s requirements. That involves 46 policies written by subsidiaries: The MEGA Life and Health Insurance Co., Mid-West National and The Chesapeake life insurance companies.

Carolina Care Plan accounts for most of the 33,000 people affected by insurers that previously said they were departing.

Its parent company, Medical Mutual of Ohio, announced in June that it was partnering with United­Health to transition coverage for the 28,000 people affected by its decision to exit South Carolina because the law. The company also left Georgia and Indiana to focus on its home market of Ohio, said spokesman Ed Byers.

Other companies say they were never truly leaving.

Cigna spokesman Joe Mondy said Monday its notice to the state reflected a name change, since the subsidiary writing South Carolina business was changing from Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. to Cigna. It’s in discussions with the insurance agency to extend individual policies for 2014, he said.

Aetna spokeswoman Susan Millerick said the company, which bought out Coventry Health Care earlier this year, decided to transfer its roughly 2,000 Aetna policyholders to Coventry plans. Coventry is one of several insurers offering plans in South Carolina through the federal insurance marketplace.

“The decision was made for Coventry to participate as the Aetna-owned entity on and off the exchange for individuals in South Carolina,” Millerick said.

Aetna officials have previously said 3,600 South Carolina policyholders of either Aetna or Coventry were notified their plans won’t exist next year.

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