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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Bare Bones Plans Expected To Survive Health Law

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Officials for McDonald's, Ruby Tuesday, Darden Restaurants and other large employers that have offered mini-med coverage in the past declined to comment or did not respond to questions about their plans.

Small Businesses Barred

The bare-bones plans cannot be offered to small businesses with fewer than 50 workers, or to individuals buying coverage through new online marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1. But benefit experts expect some larger firms that buy outside the marketplaces or that self-insure to consider them. 

The Obama administration says that workers offered such coverage may qualify to shop in the marketplaces and to buy subsidized plans.

“Individuals who are not already offered quality, affordable health care can enter into the marketplaces and choose a health insurance option that works for them,” said Sabrina Siddiqui, spokeswoman for the Treasury Department.  

About 2 million Americans are covered by limited benefit mini-med insurance policies, many of which were issued by Aetna and Cigna.

Asked whether Cigna will offer new versions next year, a company spokesman said, "We are currently evaluating the types of plan designs that will meet the needs of employers and employees." Aetna spokesman Matt Wiggin said the insurer is "still assessing" customer needs.

Skimpy insurance under the Affordable Care Act won’t be quite the same as it is now. Under the new rules, capping the dollar value of annual benefits isn't allowed, but excluding entire categories from coverage - such as hospital stays - is permitted, say benefit consultants. That's another way of keeping costs down.

'Mini-Meds Have Morphed’

 

The law says only that large-employer policies must cover preventive care such as blood pressure tests or vaccines with no co-pays for consumers. So the plan could cover dental, vision and preventive cancer screenings, but possibly not the treatment or hospital care a patient could need if diagnosed with an illness.

True, the health act requires policies to include coverage for 10 broad categories of “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization and mental health services, but that provision applies only to plans sold to small businesses and individuals.  Larger firms and self-insured employers are exempt.

Benefit advisers say some retailers and restaurant chains are considering limited-benefit plans for 2014 even though the deadline was pushed back for offering coverage or facing fines.

“It seems like mini-meds have morphed,” said Lydia Mitts, a health policy analyst for Families USA, a consumer advocacy group. The new limited benefit policies “are not the same animal but are still substandard coverage.” Employers offering these sorts of plans do face some risks, experts said. If a large employer doesn’t offer “minimum essential coverage,” it’s potentially liable for fines of $2,000 per full-time worker after the first 30 workers. Under the abstruse wording of the health law, however, skinny plans appear to qualify as minimum essential coverage.

Fri, Aug 23 2013

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