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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Bare Bones Plans Expected To Survive Health Law

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Such plans were typically offered because some insurance was seen as better than none - and the premium costs for both employers and workers were far lower than for traditional coverage.

This summer, the Obama administration gave businesses with 50 or more employees another year, until 2015, to comply with the requirement that they offer insurance or pay a fine.

“Some of the pressure was taken off because of the announcement” to delay the employer mandate, said Neil Trautwein, employee benefits policy counsel at the National Retail Federation, a trade group. “But I think you will continue to see employers in many industries ... carefully calculate their strategy for compliance,” in part by considering skinny plans. “As always, the interest is to limit cost increases.”

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.

Fri, Aug 23 2013

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