FRANKFORT — Anyone listening to the political debate about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare to the law’s critics – in Kentucky has heard claims that large numbers of people saw their insurance plans cancelled.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell says the number is 280,000. State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said last week the number is 165,000.
Kentucky’s Department of Insurance says virtually no one forcibly lost insurance coverage, although some may have had to change plans and may have had to pay more for better coverage.
In fact, said Ronda Sloan, Public Information Officer for DOI, the 280,000 figure represents the entire number of Kentuckians who were covered by private individual or small group plans before the ACA implementation. For that number to be correct, all of them would have had to lose coverage.
Sloan said 48,302 of the 280,000 Kentuckians’ existing health plans were “grandfathered in” under the new law because those policies met the law’s requirements for minimum coverage when the measure was signed into law.
The law sets minimum standards of coverage, sometimes called essential benefits, which all policies henceforth must offer – no more limits on life-time coverage; no refusal for pre-existing conditions; coverage of preventive measures.
Some people received “discontinuation” letters because their old plans failed to meet those standards, Sloan said, but that’s different from a cancellation. Sloan said those whose policies were discontinued were at the same time offered a new plan that meets the standards.
“This was not ‘losing coverage.’ It actually presented consumers with a wonderful opportunity to examine plans and shop around, knowing they couldn’t be denied coverage,” Sloan said.
Famously or infamously, President Barack Obama promised: “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” But that turned out not to be true and there was enormous criticism which was widely covered by the media. Obama subsequently said individuals would be given a year-long extension period during which they could keep their plans so long as the insurance company continued to offer it.
Sloan said another 63,832 of the 280,000 extended their plans during that “transitional relief period.”
The “overwhelming majority of the rest” were offered an opportunity by their insurance companies to renew their existing plans – even if they didn’t meet the requirements of the new law – before Jan. 1 which would have allowed them to keep those plans through December 2014.
“They didn’t lose coverage,” Sloan said. “People weren’t told suddenly you don’t have health coverage. Everyone had other options.”
That’s not how McConnell sees it.
“The fact that many had to go buy a new plan does not change the fact that the President broke his promise to Kentuckians,” said his Senate spokesman Robert Steurer. “Sen. McConnell continues to hear daily from constituents who are upset and angry that Obamacare means higher premiums and deductibles and less access to the doctors and hospitals they trust.”
Steurer cited a study by WalletHub, an internet-based financial firm, which estimated premiums in Kentucky might rise as much as 47 percent.
Slone responded by saying the WalletHub study made a “simple math comparison” of average premiums before and after ACA implementation without comparing differences in coverage. She said there isn’t any way to make a meaningful comparison because of variables of coverage, health ratings and study methodology. She also said other studies showed much smaller rate increases.
Steurer also said that one-year extension of plans under the transitional relief period doesn’t mean much because they continue only “on a temporary basis and will be cancelled by the end of the year.”
Steurer said McConnell wants to repeal the law and allow Americans to purchase insurance across state lines, allow small businesses to form purchasing pools and pass medical liability reforms.
Stivers also disputes Sloan’s explanations, saying DOI indicated to his staff that as many as 165,000 people could lose coverage or at least lose the insurance coverage they had before implementation of the law.