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Advocates say insurance cancellations' impact was overblown

Millions of Americans may have to get new health plans because of the Affordable Care Act, but a new report argues only a fraction of them will end up paying more for new coverage.

Of the 15.2 million Americans with individual health plans, less than 10 percent would not qualify for federal subsidies to reduce their monthly costs for one of the new, more expensive plans, according to data from Families USA, a consumer organization that supports the ACA. That's less than 1 percent of the nation's total population under age 65.

The analysis says that 108,500 Floridians who don't qualify for federal subsidies — about 11 percent of residents who have individual plans — could pay more.

Families USA's executive director Ron Pollack said Thursday that the report attempts to correct what he called an "overblown" perspective about the canceled policies.

"The overwhelming majority of people with private, individual health insurance today will soon be able to receive better coverage and pay lower premiums due to the Affordable Care Act," he said.

The health law prevents insurers from selling plans that don't meet new standards, which include hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity care and mental health services. It also prohibits plans from imposing annual coverage caps and denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing health conditions.

As a result, insurers have been canceling existing plans that did not meet all the standards. After the cancellations made national headlines, President Obama urged insurers to renew for up to one year those policies that don't meet all the requirements.

Because the analysis assumed states were expanding Medicaid eligibility, the report likely underestimates how many Floridians can expect financial help.

Nearly 800,000 poor Floridians fall into the Medicaid "gap" — unable to qualify either for Medicaid under the state's stringent requirements or tax subsidies to purchase private insurance.

The report doesn't say how many of those receiving subsidies will find their premiums truly affordable.

"Even with this new assistance, the new benefits will cause some people to pay more for insurance than they do today," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans.

About 15 million Americans — less than 6 percent of the population — receive their health coverage through individual plans. Most Americans get their coverage through either an employer or government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Families USA found that only 30 percent of individual policyholders make too much money to qualify for federal subsidies.

The analysis also took into account a 2004 statistic that illustrates the volatility of the individual health insurance market — only about one-third of individual policyholders retain it for more than one year.

"Those folks were not going to continue getting coverage even before the Affordable Care Act, so obviously it lends a perspective to what role the Affordable Care Act had (on) terminations," Pollack said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Advocates say insurance cancellations' impact was overblown 11/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 21, 2013 9:17pm]
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