Thursday, June 21, 2018

Large health care insurer promises to keep parts of new law

The nation's largest health insurer will keep in place several key consumer provisions mandated by the 2010 health-care law regardless of whether the statute survives Supreme Court review.

Officials at UnitedHealthcare will announce today that whatever the outcome of the court decision — expected this month — the company will continue to provide customers preventive health care services without copayments or other out-of-pocket charges, allow parents to keep adult children up to age 26 on their plans, and maintain the more streamlined appeals process required by the law.

UnitedHealthcare would also continue to observe the law's prohibitions on putting lifetime limits on insurance payouts and rescinding coverage after a member becomes ill, except in cases where a member lied on an insurance application.

The provisions are part of a package in the law often referred to by supporters as "the Patients Bill of Rights" that took effect as plans renewed after Sept. 23, 2010. They are popular with consumers and uncontroversial among insurers.

There had already been signals from industry insiders that some insurers were likely to leave them in place. UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, is the first to publicly commit to the idea.

"The protections we are voluntarily extending are good for people's health, promote broader access to quality care and contribute to helping control rising health care costs," Stephen Hemsley, president and chief executive of UnitedHealth Group, said. "These provisions are compatible with our mission and continue our operating practices."

The court's options include upholding the law, overturning part or all of it, and delaying action until after the law takes full effect.

UnitedHealthcare's announcement applies to the roughly 9 million consumers in plans that they or their employer have purchased from UnitedHealthcare. An additional 27 million people are covered by plans that are administered by UnitedHealthcare but for which their employer has assumed the financial risk, meaning that in effect their employer is their insurer. In these cases it would be up to the employer to decide which provisions to continue offering voluntarily.

While UnitedHealthcare would include birth control and sterilization among the preventive services it would continue to offer without copayments, officials said they would honor requests from employers or individual customers wishing to remove such services from the list because of religious or other objections.

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