Malloy declines president’s ‘fix’ on Obamacare, but extends enrollment deadline

UPDATED: 2:53 p.m.

Connecticut will not allow insurance companies to extend policies now slated to be discontinued because of the federal health law, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday.

But he said that Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, will extend by a week its deadline for people to get coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. People now have until Dec. 23 to sign up for an insurance plan that starts at the beginning of 2014.

President Obama last week announced that insurers could extend policies that don’t meet the health law’s requirements if state regulators agreed to it. He was responding to anger at the hundreds of thousands of insurance policies that are being discontinued despite his pledge that people who like their health plans could keep them under the law commonly known as Obamacare.

“The solution offered a week ago by the president doesn’t work in Connecticut,” Malloy said.

Even if Connecticut had adopted the option, insurance companies would have been able to decide whether to extend plans they had intended to discontinue.

Malloy said Friday that insurance companies had indicated that they would not extend plans if allowed to. In addition, he said, many policies slated to be discontinued wouldn’t be affected by the Obama fix even if it were allowed. And he said that even if plans were renewed, they would likely have significant rate increases.

Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, called the governor’s decision “the wise and sensible move” for the state.

“I think it reflects the fact that the national political narrative is not consistent with Connecticut’s on-the-ground practical narrative,” he said, noting that Connecticut’s exchange has been functioning well, so consumers have options for selecting other plans.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, agreed with Malloy’s decision.

“Despite problems at the national level, Connecticut’s healthcare marketplace is a model for the country and enables us to connect people with the best healthcare possible at the lowest cost,” Sharkey said. “Though the need for some modifications may develop, a wholesale change to our system in Connecticut would likely cause unnecessary harm.”

But the governor, a first-term Democrat facing re-election next year, drew sharp criticism from Republicans, including a candidate for governor, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, who made Obamacare a gubernatorial issue last week by challenging Malloy to call a special session of the legislature.

“I am disappointed by Gov. Malloy’s decision today,” McKinney said. “Instead of acting on my call to bring the General Assembly into session to amend state law so that these policies could be continued, the governor rejected my request and his insurance commissioner has told us to ‘forget about the numbers.’  But we can’t do that. Unfortunately for Gov. Malloy, these ‘numbers’ represent real people. Tens of thousands of people in Connecticut are going to lose their health insurance this year because of Obamacare and Gov. Malloy’s decision.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk and Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. also criticized the Malloy on an issue the GOP hopes will be potent in a variety of 2014 races.

“The people who have had their policies terminated awaiting word on their fate should have been given at least a one-year reprieve from the governor,” Cafero said. “Connecticut, unfortunately, finds itself in the same predicament as other states: While we have not experienced the disastrous website failures elsewhere, Obamacare is not working here either.”

“Dan Malloy is refusing to accept responsibility,” Labriola said. “Instead, he’s doubling down on Obamacare and abandoning the Connecticut families who are being stripped of their healthcare coverage.”

Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba disputed Cafero’s remarks, saying that “what he is suggesting should have hapened could not have hapened, because the President’s proposed solution simply doesn’t work for Connecticut.” Doba said insurers had made it clear that even if they were given the leeway to extend plans, they would not do it.

Malloy said Access Health and insurance department staff will work with private insurers to help people losing their plans, including by embedding Access Health staff into private carriers.

“We’re going to work with people, walk them through their options, and get them covered either on the exchange or with a private plan that makes sense for their needs,” Malloy said. “The simple truth is that Connecticut didn’t create this particular problem, but we aren’t going to pass the buck either.”

On Wednesday, Malloy distanced himself from Obama with a public rebuke of the White House for botching the rollout of the new health program and for opening governors to poltical criticism by creating an impression it lay within their power to stop policy cancellations.

“I don’t appreciate it,” he said.

Figures released Friday by the governor’s office indicate that 38,561 individual-market policies are being discontinued, which represents 58 percent of the state’s individual market.

Within the market, 36 percent of policies are considered “grandfathered,” meaning they’re exempt from the health law’s requirements and could continue into 2014 and beyond if the insurers chose to keep offering them. Those plans, if canceled, would not be affected by the Obama fix.

Data from the insurance department show that Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, is canceling all 15,000 of its grandfathered policies. Aetna canceled 57 of its 3,000 grandfathered policies, while ConnectiCare and UnitedHealthcare are not discontinuing any of their grandfathered plans.

Connecticut residents whose plans are being eliminated at the end of the year had been urging lawmakers to allow their policies to be extended.

But Obama’s announcement put Democrats who have supported the health law in a tricky position. Extending insurance plans now slated to be canceled could reduce enrollment in the state’s health insurance exchange, a new market for people to buy coverage, and could mean fewer healthy members who are needed to ensure a balanced risk pool. If the exchange fails to attract enough healthy members, prices for the plans it sells could rise next year — something that would likely become clear in late 2014, at the height of races for governor, the state’s five congressional seats and every legislative seat.

Some insurance companies have offered members whose plans are being discontinued the option of either renewing their plans early or signing up for new plans that take effect this year. That would allow them to get 12 months of coverage with a policy subject to current market rules and prices, rather than those that will take effect Jan. 1 as part of the health law.

Aetna reported that 40 percent of its 12,500 policyholders whose plans are not being renewed selected a new plan that starts Dec 1. Adoption of that option has grown significantly in the past week, and members have until Nov. 27 to select that plan. Across all carriers, 19,251 current policyholders elected to buy or renew plans effective Dec. 1, according to the Connecticut Insurance Department.

Anthem released a statement Friday supporting Malloy’s decision. “Our goal is to proceed in a manner that not only protects our members’ access to quality health care coverage, but also offers affordable coverage in the long-term as well as the short-term,” it said. “To that end, we believe it is important to stay the course, in the interest of the longer term viability of our products both on and off exchange, with our current strategy for plan changes.”

ConnectiCare also praised Malloy’s decision, saying it would minimize disruption and confusion for customers.

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