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ND insurance commissioner asks companies to renew canceled policies

BISMARCK – North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said Thursday he is asking health insurance companies doing business in the state to renew policies for customers who were notified that their plans have been or will be canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Nearly 36,000 North Dakotans were among the millions of Americans who received notices that they would be losing their existing health insurance plans.

President Barack Obama responded to criticism by announcing last week an administrative fix that allows insurers to offer affected customers the option of renewing their plans for 2014.

Hamm said last week he needed time to study the revision and its potential impact on policyholders and the market. He announced his decision in a news release Thursday morning.

“This was a very close call for me on this issue, but at the end of the day my overriding concern is what’s in the best interest of the almost 36,000 North Dakotans that have or will be losing their health insurance coverage through no fault of their own,” he said. “The president repeatedly made a promise to them and to all Americans that if they liked their health insurance plan they could keep it. As such, that promise should be kept.”

The Insurance Department advised that policyholders should consider three factors before deciding to renew their existing plans: The benefits of the renewed plan will be the same, but costs could increase; limitations, including exclusions based on pre-existing conditions, will still exist; and the level of benefits and other requirements in a renewed plan may not be as comprehensive as in plans sold effective Jan. 1 that comply with the act, commonly called Obamacare.

Hamm said the administrative fix isn’t a long-term solution but may provide temporary relief to some North Dakotans. He said Congress should look at taking legislative action “to ensure the president’s promise is kept that any American who wants to keep their health insurance plan will be able to do so.”

Consumers who received cancellation notices are advised to contact their insurance company for more information.

Among North Dakota’s three major health insurers, about 31,600 customers of Blue Cross Blue Shield received cancellation notices, as did 3,173 Medica customers and 812 Sanford Health Plan customers, Hamm said last week.

Insurance companies that choose to extend current plans must notify customers of the option to buy coverage through the newly created Health Insurance Marketplace, as well as what protections they’re giving up to keep the plan they have, according to the White House.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.