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CareFirst, Kaiser will OK renewals

At least two of the health insurance companies that planned to discontinue certain policies sold in Maryland say they will now allow those policies to be renewed for one more year, in light of changes to state and federal regulations.

A third company would like to reinstate policies slated to be discontinued, according to a spokeswoman, but executives are unsure if it would be feasible.

Both CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente will allow policyholders who were notified that their plans were being terminated to keep those plans in 2014, according to spokespersons for the companies.

The reversal is in response to President Barack Obama’s recent decision to delay enforcement of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require all insurance plans to meet minimum standards by providing certain health benefits. The Maryland Insurance Administration clarified Tuesday that it’s up to insurance carriers whether to continue offering non-compliant plans.

Officials for CareFirst, the state’s largest insurer, said the company had intended to discontinue the plans of more than 50,000 Marylanders covered by three subsidiaries: CareFirst of Maryland Inc., CareFirst BlueChoice and Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc.

If those people want to keep the same coverage through the end of 2014, officials said, they must take action to renew the policy before Dec. 16, which would give the company enough time to process the claims and ensure coverage would begin Jan. 1.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to extend this opportunity to our individual subscribers and their families and [we] fully support this step that the MIA has now afforded us,” said CareFirst President and CEO Chet Burrell in a statement.

Kaiser Permanente’s subsidiary, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc., had sent cancellation notices to more than 5,000 policy-holders, but the carrier now intends to offer the option to renew, according to a spokeswoman.

Officials for Aetna Inc., which had been selling individual plans in Maryland under subsidiaries Aetna Life Insurance Co. and Coventry Health and Life Insurance Co., said they would like to follow suit but that it might not be possible to re-offer the more than 12,600 policies that were going to be discontinued.

It’s very unlikely that Aetna would be able to make those policies available again because Aetna forfeited its right to sell individual health plans in Maryland when it dropped out of the state-run exchange, Maryland Health Connection, in August.

“We support efforts to allow people to keep what they have,” said spokeswoman Anjanette Coplin. “However, we will need cooperation and expedited approval from state regulators to remove barriers that would make it difficult to make this change in such a short period of time. State regulators will need to allow us to update our policies and secure appropriate rates so we can get these plans back in the market.”

When asked to be more specific about what would need to happen in order for Aetna to renew its plans, Coplin said she could not provide any more details.

“We are still in discussions with the state to determine how we can best meet the needs of our customers,” Coplin said.

CareFirst officials said they determined that consumers who re-enroll in non-compliant plans would pay the most recent premium rates that were approved by the MIA for those plans. Those premiums won’t necessarily be the same as they were when the customer first enrolled in the plan, because the MIA might have reviewed the rates since that time.

The decision to allow renewal of non-ACA compliant plans does not mean consumers will be able to hold onto the same plans indefinitely. Those policies will no longer be available after 2014, and consumers must find new coverage.

“This step will help smooth the transition to the new ACA products,” Burrell said.

Consumers may also decline to renew the policy and instead purchase coverage from the state-run exchange or directly from an insurer.