WASHINGTON -- One of the largest health insurance companies in the United States is advising insurance brokers on how to evade new mandates and benefits set to take effect next year under President Barack Obama's health care reform law.
In an email sent to brokers, the insurance giant Aetna explains how they can renew customers' current health plans before Jan. 1, a strategy the Los Angeles Times reported this week is under consideration at other big health insurance companies.
Obamacare includes a number of new rules for health insurance plans that will become law at the beginning of next year, or whenever existing policies expire. By extending customers' plans before then, health insurance companies and their customers can lock in health plans that don't adhere to those rules for up to one more year.
Among the new rules this approach could skirt are requirements that health insurance cover a minimum set of benefits, prohibitions on turning away people with pre-existing conditions, bans on charging higher rates to sick people or to women, limitations on how much extra older people can be asked to pay, and rules against insurance companies refusing to renew policies.
The company is calling its outreach to insurance brokers "Aetna’s Premium Savings program."
"In 2014, changes set in motion by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may lead to dramatic increases in premiums," says the email from Aetna, which the company verified is authentic. "By electing a fourth quarter 2013 renewal, some of your clients can achieve significant cost savings in 2014 and take time to assess their business needs for the future, without sacrificing their current coverage today."
Along with the rest of the health insurance industry, Aetna has been sounding the alarm that the health care law will boost premiums for some people when its market reforms go into effect. The email to brokers cites "[f]actors such as essential health benefits, maximum plan deductibles, the application of new taxes and fees and new rating rules."
The practice of renewing current health insurance plans before Jan. 1 may not be widespread. The strategy allows companies and customers a year at the most under the old rules and poses administrative challenges to health insurers, The Huffington Post reported Wednesday.
But Aetna is embracing the approach as a choice for its policyholders.
"We are working with customers and brokers to help them navigate through their options and select a benefit plan that best fits their needs," Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener wrote in an email to HuffPost. "Some individuals and small businesses will pay more for their health coverage, and others less, depending on their unique factors. The new ACA requirements also will mean some health benefit plans that customers have selected previously will not be available to them in 2014."
Because the health care law will require new minimum benefits and other consumer protections, it may drive up health insurance premiums for some younger, healthier people who are able to buy relatively inexpensive, and sometimes skimpy, coverage in today's marketplace. Health insurance policies that don't meet the law's new standards won't be available to new customers starting next year.
A large percentage of these younger, healthier people will be eligible for subsidies that reduce what they actually pay for health insurance, but some will wind up with bigger health insurance bills in exchange for more comprehensive coverage. Older and sicker people are expected to have easier access to health insurance that may not be available or affordable under today's rules.
Like other health insurance companies, Aetna opposed the health care reform law during congressional consideration in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, Aetna gave millions of dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Tea Party-allied American Action Network to keep up the fight against Obamacare.
Concerns about health care reform aren't dissuading the company from seeking to make money off the law, however. Aetna plans to offer products for sale on Obamacare's health insurance exchange marketplaces, where small employers and people who don't get health benefits at work will be able to comparison-shop for coverage and learn whether they qualify for financial assistance.
Aetna also boosted its government business last year by acquiring Coventry Health Care, an insurance company with millions of Medicare and Medicaid customers.
Read Aetna's email to insurance brokers below: