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W.Va. rejects return to pre-ACA insurance plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia will not allow people whose insurance plans have been canceled because of the Affordable Care Act to keep those plans for one more year.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Riley announced Thursday that West Virginia would not adopt the "single-year" re-enrollment proposal from the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

"The abrupt CCIIO proposal comes at a time when West Virginia employers, citizens and insurance carriers have already made extensive changes to comply with the new law," Riley said in a statement.

"In order to avoid further confusion, provide market stability, mitigate potential rate impacts of the CCIIO proposal, and regulate the West Virginia insurance market in accordance with the existing law, we have decided to maintain our current direction," Riley continued.

"After completing our analysis, we concluded that our insurance marketplace and policyholders were given a transition period that is consistent with the existing law. We will continue to monitor any future developments to ensure we protect the interest of West Virginia's citizens."

President Obama recently announced that states have the option to allow insurance companies to renew insurance plans that do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. That would have meant that those plans that don't meet ACA requirements could have renewed those plans in 2014 and kept them into 2015.

The announcement came after Obama was pressured to live up to his promise that under the ACA, people who like their insurance plans could keep them.

In fact, about 8,300 Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia customers will ultimately have their individual policies canceled and will have to purchase a plan that meets ACA requirements.

About 3.5 million Americans received cancellation notices, according to estimates from The Associated Press. The cancellations affect those who purchase their insurance plans on the individual market.

According to the law, health insurance plans must include a specific set of 10 "essential benefits," including emergency care, mental health and maternity care. If they don't, they can be "grandfathered" in -- as long as they have existed continuously since before the law was enacted and have had no significant changes. Those that have changed since the law was enacted are not allowed under the new law.

Obama's proposal would have allowed those people with cancellation notices to renew their insurance plans for one more year before they purchase a plan that meets ACA requirements.

But on Thursday, West Virginia joined a handful of states that have rejected the proposal to allow insurance companies to renew those plans in 2014.

Fred Earley, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, said Riley made the right decision. Highmark had already announced that their customers whose plans would be canceled could renew their plans before the end of this year. That means can be covered with their current plan until the end of 2014.

"For [the West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner] to have decided otherwise could have had an adverse impact on the insurance market in West Virginia," Earley said. "I think the Insurance Commission made a decision that appropriately balanced the need for a transition for individuals and small groups with the need to provide for and regulate a stable insurance market and I believe their decision was the correct one."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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