One of the main goals of the ACA, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, was to provide affordable health insurance to every American.
The law’s passage in 2010 made it possible for nearly 54 million Americans—previously denied coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions—to purchase coverage, as well as landmark provisions to protect those who developed an expensive medical condition while insured from being unexpectedly dropped by their health plan.
By all accounts, such provisions helped a record number of Americans procure medical insurance coverage—and, by extension, reduce healthcare costs and avoid medical bankruptcies.
Yet, with the elimination of the individual mandate penalty in 2017, and other policy changes that have forced up the cost of premiums, many Americans are looking for options off the healthcare exchange.
One such option is the short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plan, loosely defined as bare bones medical coverage that can last up to 12 months with the potential for renewal. Managed Healthcare Executive® Editorial Advisor Margaret Murray, chief executive officer of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), said such plans “are not really insurance,”—and refers to them as “junk insurance.” With a new 2018 HHS rule that dramatically expands access to this type of coverage, she worries that their availability will hurt consumers.
“Insurance brokers may offer these plans to consumers and those consumers may not realize that they largely reverse ACA protections regarding pre-existing conditions and coverage limits,” she says. “These plans don’t cover what you think they will cover, the insurance companies can cancel your policy at any time, and they can deny your access to maternity care and certain drugs. It’s not really major medical insurance and it’s not always easy for your average consumer to see that.”
The Trump Administration contends, with rising insurance premiums, that such short-term plans make health insurance more affordable for the average American.
Cathryn Donaldson, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance trade association, says such plans “can provide a temporary bridge for those who are going through a life transition or gap in coverage such as having a baby or changing jobs.”
Yet, Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, says STLDI plans embody the old adage about getting what you pay for. STLDI are not required to comply with many of the ACA’s most important protections, which means insurance companies can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, charge higher premiums based on health status, impose annual and/or lifetime caps, and opt out of coverage for things like maternity care or mental health treatment. They can also revoke coverage at will.
“Under the ACA, it used to be that short term and minimum essential coverage [MEC] policies had to have a prominent warning printed on the front place that said, if you buy this, you are not getting full coverage and may even owe a tax penalty,” she explains. “Those warnings are no longer there and that’s of concern.”
Furthermore, late last year, HHS put forth a final rule extending the duration of STLDI from a mere three months up to 364 days. In addition, insurers can offer renewals and extensions for up to three years. What is even more concerning, Murray says, is the current Administration is now actively promoting the use of private web broker sites to market STLDI. This can make it more difficult for consumers to understand which plans offer comprehensive medical coverage and which are the riskier STLDI plans.