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Blue Cross won’t extend discontinued plans

Patrick Springer | Forum News Service

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota will not extend coverage for health insurance plans it will discontinue because of new standards under the Affordable Care Act.

President Barack Obama decided two weeks ago to allow health insurers to extend coverage after many customers complained that they were losing coverage they wanted to maintain.

In response, North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm asked insurers to consider extending coverage for the discontinued policies to give customers the option of keeping the policies.

Paul von Ebers, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, on Monday said extending coverage for the phased-out plans would create problems, including higher premium costs down the line.

“This is a complex issue, and when we broke it down and determined the overall impact on all our members – in the long term and the short term – we felt it was not in the best interests of our members to continue the non-grandfathered plans into 2014,” von Ebers said in a statement.

“We believe it would shift costs from one group of members to others, creating additional market uncertainty and exposing our members to new financial risk,” von Ebers’ statement continued.

The possibility of continuing into next year with plans that do not meet new requirements under the Affordable Care Act would create uncertainty in the market, he said.

“In that uncertain regulatory environment, we need to create stability for our members when it comes to rates and plan designs,” von Ebers said.

Hamm has estimated that about 40,000 North Dakota residents are affected by discontinuation of health insurance plans. The vast majority, about 31,600, are insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

The Sanford Health Plan decided it would allow continued coverage to those who previously were notified their plans would be canceled, about 500 customers in North Dakota.

Several notices will be sent to those customers explaining their options, said Ruth Krystopolski, president of the Sanford Health Plan.

“We were trying to give people enough time to make a decision,” she said, noting that many faced problems with the online marketplace with a Dec. 23 signup deadline looming for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

For Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, the decision not to extend coverage for plans that fail to meet the new standards affects about 7 percent of the insurer’s members.

“As I acknowledged on Nov. 21, companies had their own analysis to do on this difficult issue and a hard decision to make,” Hamm said in a statement. “With that said, I’m disappointed in Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota’s decision and I’m sure that a number of their impacted policyholders will be as well.”

The North Dakota Blues estimate that half of those members will find better coverage under plans available through the marketplace than staying on their current, nongrandfathered plan.

A spokesman for Medica, another major health insurer in North Dakota, could not be reached Monday for comment.

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