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Montana Insurance Commissioner Derides President’s New Policy to Revive Old Plans

Photo courtesy of marsmet 548/Flickr

In order not to trample over his “if you like your plan, you can keep it” promise, President Obama announced Thursday, November 14, that insurance plans that had been cancelled due to new regulations, could now be revived if insurance companies wish to do so.

Although only 212 Montanans have been able to sign up for new plans as of November, thousands have lost their old plans due to insurance product withdrawals because of new requirements in the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know exactly how many letters went out, but I know that the product withdrawals affect 26,000 Montanans,” said Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen.

The eleventh hour policy shift has caused much confusion in Montana, particularly for Commissioner Lindeen and for the health insurance companies that create the plans. The plans are built for 2014, but much work will need to be done in the next month to prepare them for market.

“The roll out has been pretty rocky, but the announcement today doesn’t do anything to smooth out those bumps,” Lindeen said. Later, Lindeen elaborated on the President’s earlier promises saying, “I think that, obviously, the President made a promise he shouldn’t have made and it’s very tough to put the genie back into the bottle.”

Lindeen said the announcement created “confusion” and said that she was still trying to find out what  type of authoriy she had as an insurance commissioner over the matter. When asked if she would turn down the offer as Washington State Commissioner Mike Kriedler announced he would do, Lindeen said that she did not think she had the same authority, partially because of different rules in Montana, and partially because Montana’s healthcare exchange was set up federally, whereas Washington set up its own exchange.

“This announcement today, and the confusion that this announcement is causing for insurance companies and state regulators, kind of highlights the precise reason why the federal government should not be involved in the business of actually regulating health insurance or any other kind of insurance,” Lindeen said. “It’s a very complicated business and states understand their markets: they know their companies, they understand their policy holders. I think that, unfortunately, this particular announcement today is causing a lot of confusion for all of the markets across this country.”

Lindeen said that if companies choose to revive the old plans, it could mean higher costs, not only for those on the plans, but for others in a company’s risk pool.

“Insurance companies have been operating under the assumption that everybody was going to be in the same pool,” Lindeen said. “Now, if they make the decision not to go ahead and cancel these policies, they will now then be bifurcating that risk pool, which means that there are probably going to be some higher costs for some consumers.”

Insurance companies will have to make the big decision on whether or not they will bring back the plans that were supposed to be phased out. Lindeen said that she was in initial conversations with those companies today, but that the decisions could take days.

Monica Lindeen:

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