TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas' largest health insurer said Tuesday that it will offer another year of coverage under plans that it had expected to cancel in 2014 because of the federal health care overhaul.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas said it hopes to notify about 10,000 policyholders within the next week that they can continue with their existing, individual coverage. The company had sent them notices canceling their policies as of Jan. 1, leaving them to find new health plans.
The company's decision came less than a week after President Barack Obama announced that insurers would be allowed to keep offering existing plans for at least another year, even if those plans don't comply with federal coverage mandates. At least 4 million Americans received cancellation notices because their plans didn't meet the requirements of the 2010 health care law championed by Obama.
Blue Cross spokeswoman Mary Beth Chambers said continuing such plans represents "what we think our members would want." She said the company waited for additional guidance from federal officials, consulted with the state Insurance Department and reviewed technical issues before coming to its decision.
"We had to make sure that we could make the changes on our end to make these plans available," Chambers said.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger praised Blue Cross' decision as "the right thing to do" given problems with the federally run online health insurance marketplace for Kansas and most other states. Last week, the federal government reported that only 371 Kansans had selected a health plan through the marketplace from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2.
But U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, said Blue Cross' decision, while good news for policyholders, is only a temporary fix allowed by the president under "a badly broken law."
"It means these folks will still have their plans canceled at the end of next year," Jenkins, a critic of the health care overhaul, said in a statement.
Chambers said Blue Cross will continue the plans that had been slated to end without changing them, except for the typical annual "age bump" rate increases for policy holders.
Praeger's office reviews health insurance rates, and Linda Sheppard, its health policy director, said Blue Cross will still be required to submit filings on the plans it will continue.
But Sheppard said the Insurance Department hopes to finish reviewing any filings by the end of the year.
"Obviously, we're committed to getting this done as soon as we can," Sheppard said.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas: http://www.bcbsks.com/
Kansas Insurance Department: http://www.ksinsurance.org/
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