Can You Keep Your Old Health Plan? It May Depend On Where You Live : Shots - Health News President Obama's proposal — designed to help reverse the recent cancellation of some health policies — seems to leave the decision up to insurance companies. But there are other decision-makers in the mix who are just as important: state regulators.
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Can You Keep Your Old Health Plan? It May Depend On Where You Live

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Can You Keep Your Old Health Plan? It May Depend On Where You Live

Can You Keep Your Old Health Plan? It May Depend On Where You Live

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The House of Representatives today passed the Keep Your Health Plan Act. It's aimed at people whose insurance policies have been cancelled because of the Affordable Care Act. Though it's not expected to have any future in the Senate, it does send a message. Meanwhile, President Obama's new proposal to fix the law is turning out to have some limitations of its own.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: It all sounded so simple when the president announced it yesterday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be cancelled into 2014 and Americans whose plans have been cancelled can choose to reenroll in the same kind of plan.

ROVNER: In other words, if your insurance company says so, you can keep your existing health plan for another year, but you might have missed what the president said right before that.

OBAMA: State insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can't be sold in their states.

ROVNER: Indeed, but there's a problem with that says Sabrina Corlette. She's a research professor at Georgetown University.

SABRINA CORLETTE: In some of these states, it may actually be against state law to implement the president's proposal yesterday.

ROVNER: Corlette says a healthy minority of states, some put the number around a dozen, have basically written the Affordable Care Act's requirements into their own state laws. But it also means that starting January 1, 2014, even if the federal government says cancelled plans can continue for another year, state regulators might find their hands tied by their own state laws.

CORLETTE: In some cases, the insurance company might want to do it and the insurance department might want to allow the company to do it, but may not be able to because of restrictions in state law.

ROVNER: Indeed, Corlette says eight states have already moved to prevent or restrict insurers from renewing plans now that extend into 2014. That's something the federal law does not prevent. But in most of the states, whether or not to allow insurers to uncancel policies will be up to state regulators and they seem to be dividing along lines that are not necessarily partisan.

California's Democratic insurance commissioner, for example, has announced he will allow insurers to go forward if they want. But Washington state's Mike Kreidler, a former Democratic U.S. congressman, has said an emphatic no. He says his state's health exchange is working smoothly and he sees no reason to make changes now. Besides, he adds...

MIKE KREIDLER: It would've been very disruptive to try to figure out a way to implement the president's suggestion and quite frankly, I'm not sure that it even would have been feasible to do it under the best of circumstances.

ROVNER: Kreidler says allowing cancelled plans to continue would also be unfair to the state's insurance companies who've already set their rates based on the assumption that most people will be buying plans that do meet the new requirements.

KREIDLER: When you change the rules halfway through the game, all of a sudden, everything that they'd been operating under with certain assumptions goes away and that would've been very difficult for the market.

ROVNER: That may be true says Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, but she's worried about people in her state being unable to get onto the bulky federal website and get any insurance. That's why she's planning to take up the president's offer, even if the plans won't cover a full array of benefits or preexisting conditions as the new rules require.

SANDY PRAEGER: Our first responsibility is to protect the consumers and, at least in my mind, that means finding a way to let them stay on those policies if they want.

ROVNER: About the only thing that's clear right now, more than ever, what kind of health insurance you can get if you're shopping for an individual or small business plan depends, in large part, on where in the country you lived. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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