Insurer Pledges to Retain ACA Benefits


UPDATE 6/14/12: At least two other large insurers are following UnitedHealthcare’s lead in pledging to maintain certain preventive care benefits should the Affordable Care Act be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In a statement issued on June 11, Humana announced that it would voluntarily continue the same provisions announced by UnitedHealthcare. Aetna will also keep those provisions in place, according to press reports.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, UnitedHealthcare will continue to offer several benefits currently required under the law.

On June 11, the insurance giant announced that it will continue to offer coverage for preventive health care without consumer cost sharing, cover dependents up to age 26 years, and refrain from imposing lifetime dollar limits on coverage. The insurer also pledged to provide a simple, accessible external appeals process and to limit the practice of rescinding individual coverage to cases of fraud. These benefits, which are all required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), will continue to be available to all current and future customers, according to a company announcement.

"The protections we are voluntarily extending are good for people’s health, promote broader access to quality care and contribute to helping control rising health care costs," Stephen J. Hemsley, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group, said in a statement.

Absent from the list is coverage for children with pre-existing medical conditions. That popular provision went into effect on Sept. 23, 2010, but UnitedHealthcare said that "one company acting alone cannot take that step," so it plans to work with other health plans to try to maintain that coverage.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said if UnitedHealthcare were to go ahead on its own and guarantee coverage for children regardless of pre-existing medical conditions, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. That kind of coverage is only possible if all plans are required by law to provide it, he said.

Mr. Pollack noted that UnitedHealthcare has not volunteered to continue all ACA benefits. Notably, the company’s announcement did not address charging higher premiums on the basis of health status, age, and gender.

Given UnitedHealthcare’s large market share, other health insurers could follow the company’s lead in continuing some ACA benefits, Mr. Pollack said, but it’s too early to say for sure.

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