Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Health insurers to halt new child-only policies

LOS ANGELES — Major health insurance companies in a number of states, including Tennessee, have decided to stop selling policies for tens of thousands of children rather than comply with a new federal health-care law that bars them from rejecting youngsters with pre-existing medical conditions.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna, Cigna and others will halt new "child-only" policies in Tennessee, California, Illinois, Florida, Connecticut and elsewhere Thursday when provisions of the nation's new health-care law take effect, including a requirement that insurers cover people younger than 19 regardless of their health histories.

BlueCross BlueShield, the state's largest insurer, was "the last insurance company remaining in Tennessee that was issuing child-only policies," spokeswoman Mary Thompson said.

"We just could not accept all of the risk for this group."

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Coverage is still available for children through their parents, who can add a child to an existing BlueCross family policy without regard to pre-existing conditions, Thompson said.

Parents can also turn to CoverKids, Tennessee's health insurance program for children.

Nationwide, the action will apply only to new coverage sought for children and not to existing family policies or those provided to youngsters through their parents' employers. As many as an estimated 500,000 children nationwide would be affected by the insurers' decisions, according to state and national experts.

Some insurers said they are acting because the new federal requirement could create huge and unexpected costs for insuring children. They say the rule may prompt parents to buy insurance only after their kids become sick, producing a glut of ill youngsters to insure. As a result, they say, many insurers would flee the marketplace, leaving only a few to shoulder a huge financial burden.

The companies said that they now sell relatively few child-only policies.

The change has infuriated lawmakers, regulators and health-care advocates, who say it will force more families to enroll in already strained public insurance programs.

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