Privately insured fear health care changes

Aaron Hirsh, self-employed Slidell resident, said Wednesday he is scared about having to find health insurance coverage for his family since his plan is going to be canceled.

His policy is among the 92,793 individual insurance plans that Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon reported would be discontinued because the coverage does not meet the coverage standards set by the federal Affordable Care Act.

“It fit my needs,” Hirsh said of his current plan through Assurant Health. “I don’t really care what the government says my requirements are. I’m not happy I have to go through this again, because it’s a pain to shop for health care.”

His current plan has lower lower premiums but high deductibles. He likely will have to pay more.

The husband and father two said he is awaiting new Assurant quotes and plans to check out his options on HealthCare.gov, but not for a month or so when the website is functioning better. He said he believes he makes too much money to qualify for federal subsidies.

Hirsh called it a “scary situation” waiting to learn how much he will have to pay next year.

President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But about 2 million people around the country are receiving letters this month cancelling their coverage.

The Affordable Care Act initially allowed consumers, if they wanted, to keep policies that were in effect as of March 23, 2010, even if those plans didn’t meet the standards set by the new law. Later the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations that certain aspects – high deductibles and certain types of coverages, for instance – could not be “grandfathered.”

It’s actually a fairly small percentage of the insurance market, about 4 or 5 percent, and mostly people who are self-employed or work at companies that do not provide health care benefits.

John Overton owns and operates Turnkey Solutions, a Baton Rouge business that offers health care technology and small business solutions. Turnkey employs 12 people.

Overton said 15 percent of his staff are on a high deductible plan that offers $3,000 annual deductibles for individuals and $6,000 annual deductibles for families. He said his insurer, United Healthcare, still is crunching the numbers, but individuals likely will have $5,000 annual deductibles under the Affordable Care Act. Families’ deductibles could increase to $10,000 a year.

He said the big, unanswered question is what will happen to the company’s other plans and what kind of coverage will they now offer.

“It’s not as appealing, but compared to what? We kind of feel stuck right now,” Overton said.

The amount disallowed in Louisiana represents just more than half of the roughly 165,000 individual insurance policies. The discontinuations do not apply to the people who acquire insurance through their employers.

The vast majority of the discontinuations come from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and its 60,000 impacted plans. The Humana Health Benefit Plan of Louisiana reported 18,000 discontinuations, along with 10,000 from Coventry Health Care of Louisiana, more than 3,600 from the Golden Rule Insurance Co., and 650 from Vantage Health Plan, Inc., among others.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was one of 16 Democratic senators who met Wednesday with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden regarding concerns about the Affordable Care Act rollout thus far.

The president emphasized to the senators that he shares their commitment to ensuring Americans who want to enroll in health insurance through the exchanges are able to do so in time for insurance coverage to start as early as Jan. 1 and throughout the open enrollment period that goes through March 31, according to the White House. Obama also discussed ongoing efforts to ramp up communication and education outreach to consumers who have received or might receive letters about how their individual market plans might be affected. The president also reiterated ongoing efforts to protect the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information as they shop online.

Although Landrieu still supports the law, she pivoted and filed her new “Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise” bill this week to allow people to keep their current plans if they choose.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, reiterated his criticism and opposition of the law on Wednesday in a prepared statement.

“But now we are learning that 93,000 Louisianans will lose their health insurance plans because they don’t meet the standards imposed by Washington bureaucrats under Obamacare,” Cassidy stated. “If the president is going to have the government take over our health care, the least he can do is be honest with the American people.”

Mark Ballard of the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.