15,000 policyholders extend their Blue Shield health plans

In response to regulators, Blue Shield of California had offered a three-month extension to about 80,000 policyholders who were losing their health plans Dec. 31. About 15,000 of them have accepted. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times / December 17, 2013)

Given the choice, fewer than 20% of Blue Shield of California customers with canceled policies opted for a three-month extension of their current health plans.

The San Francisco insurer said about 15,000 policyholders out of 80,000 who were affected chose to keep their health plans until March 31.

Blue Shield offered the three-month extension last month to avert a lawsuit from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. He said the company failed to give these customers ample warning about the year-end cancellation.

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The insurance company said it didn't know what response to expect on these short-term extensions. In letters to customers, it warned them of the risk of having to pay a deductible twice in one year after they enroll in a new plan for the balance of 2014.

Blue Shield had offered to automatically enroll these customers into another health plan. These people could also buy a new policy on their own, in or outside the state insurance exchange called Covered California. Only people wanting a federal premium subsidy based on their income have to sign up through the exchange.

These 80,000 Blue Shield policies cover about 113,000 people.

It's possible a higher percentage would have opted for an extension if it lasted for an entire year.

That is what President Obama called for last month in response to a public uproar over millions of consumers nationwide losing their coverage because it doesn't meet all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

But the Covered California exchange and some other states rejected Obama's plan to extend health plans beyond Dec. 31, and many insurers opposed the idea as well.

Many consumers were surprised and upset at getting termination notices because Obama had repeatedly said people could keep their health plan if they liked it despite the massive healthcare overhaul.

Consumers wanting health insurance that starts Jan. 1 only have a few days left to sign up. The deadline for January coverage is Monday (Dec. 23) and the initial premium must be paid by Jan. 6 in California.

Open enrollment in the insurance exchange continues through March 31.

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