Coloradans holding onto pre-Obamacare policies

March 13, 2014 Updated: March 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm
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Patty Fontneau

The head of Colorado's health insurance exchange voiced concern this week about the prospect of thousands of Coloradans keeping their old, pre-Obamacare insurance plans for an additional two years.

"It's a big deal, and will significantly impact us depending upon how it gets rolled out," said Patty Fontneau, the exchange's chief executive, during an exchange board meeting on Monday.

Colorado insurance regulators have yet to decide whether health insurance companies can continue offering customers the opportunity to renew plans that don't fit the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

The White House opened the door last week for states to adopt such an extension, though regulators must sign off on the concept for it to take effect in Colorado. State officials said they are unsure about the exact dates that the White House approved for the extension, said Vince Plymell, a division spokesman.

"It's not quite clear," Plymell said. "So that's one of the reasons we're still looking at it."

The extension reopens a politically charged issue that erupted last fall when millions of Americans received cancellation notices from their insurance companies, despite President Barack Obama's promise that people could keep their policies under the health law.

To diffuse the fallout, Obama allowed insurance companies to extend those plans - which typically have far fewer benefits, but also lower price tags - for one year. Regulators in about half the states signed off on that change.

Colorado regulators went a slightly different route by allowing a practice called "early renewal," meaning that customers could keep their old plans for an extra year as long as they extended those policies before Jan. 1.

As of Jan. 13, 335,484 Coloradans had been affected by cancellation letters, and about 92 percent of them were offered "early renewal," according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.

Regulators do not know how many customers chose to keep their old plans by renewing early, said Marguerite Salazar, Colorado's insurance commissioner.

She added, though, that one major carrier reported one-third of its customers who received letters took the "early renewal" option.

The ability for customers to keep their old plans "absolutely hit" Connect for Health Colorado, because officials were expecting people whose plans were canceled to consider exchange-based plans, Fontneau said.

At least one member of the board that oversees the exchange voiced concern this week over the prospect of Colorado insurance regulators extending those old insurance plans.

If allowed, the marketplace's customer pool would be smaller, said Steve ErkenBrack, an exchange board member and the president of Rocky Mountain Health Plans. It also could keep out people off the exchange who appear to be healthier, because they have passed insurance underwriters' muster in the past, he said.

"The longer it takes to get them into our pool, the longer it's going to take to get the benefit of a broader, healthier population that's going to lower rates for everybody," ErkenBrack said.

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