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Insurance Commissioner Goodwin Discusses Obama's Extension Of Canceled Health Policies

By now you probably know that President Obama has offered a temporary fix for people whose health insurance companies have canceled their policies because they didn’t meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act. You can keep your policies for another year if insurance companies are willing to still offer the plans, and if state insurance regulators are OK with it. North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin says he is. He joined President Obama and other insurance commissioners at the White House this week, and he joined WFAE's Kevin Kniestedt on Morning Edition.

Kevin: Commissioner Goodwin, some state insurance commissioners have decided allowing these plans for one more year just doesn't make sense. They've said the plans were supposed to get canceled because they don't offer enough coverage, and that the change could lead to higher insurance premiums. So why did you decide to go along with it?

Goodwin: I have a serious concern about gaps in coverage. Given the communications rollout and the stumbles on the federal website, in addition to the fact that cancelation letters are confusing people, I believed it was in the best interest of North Carolinians to avoid gaps in coverage. Especially for any people that did not have grandfathered plans. So this was in the best interest of at least 473,000 North Carolinians for me to order what I did last week.

Kevin: Your department has said it will do an expedited review of the plans insurance companies decide to still offer. How will that work?

Goodwin: Well, the typical insurance filing includes hundreds of pages of documents and statistics and data and it takes months for my actuaries and other professionals and experts to review it. What was impacting us this time was that there was only a matter of weeks before canceled policies would occur, and it would be folks with gaps in coverage if we did not have an expedited process.

So I ordered my team to scrutinize the most significant components of the filings from those health insurance companies, and then do the more thorough review on the back end after these policies have been purchased and gone into effect. If an insurance company has overcharged or otherwise violated the law, then we would deal with that at that point through various administrative actions against the company and/or on behalf of the policy holder.

Kevin: Blue Cross Blue Shield has already said it'll raise rates 16 to 24 percent on its plans that it would've canceled. Does that strike you as too much?

Goodwin: I cannot comment on that at this point because we are actively expediting the review. My team will be making its recommendations to me very soon. These filed requested rates are much lower than what people had heard about as alternatives in their cancelation letters. I imagine that folks, if they are going to have coverage, would rather pay less than what they would be paying if they didn't have these resurrected policies.

Kevin: Plans that would've been canceled will still be canceled a year from now. What's to stop us from going through all this again next year?

Goodwin: Well there are a lot of moving parts on this. As I shared with the President this week, I think there needs to be a much better job of communication by all parties, especially the White House. But also by insurance regulators and particularly insurance companies. People need to know what their options are. So a year from now if the consumers are better educated on what their options are and if certain targets are met by the insurance companies and the state regulators and by the folks in Washington, then perhaps we won't face these same issues again.

Kevin: You met with the president and other state insurance commissioners this week. What did you take away from that meeting?

Goodwin: Several things. One is that the President stressed that he does believe in the role and the power of state based insurance regulations. The second is that he is obviously doing his homework more than ever. He shared some statistics without any notes or guides whatsoever that were particular to each of the states that were present at this meeting in the Oval Office. He was very much engaged and was asking what the states needed that's in the best interest of policy holders and the citizens. So I guess the takeaway was that states are the place where consumers are best protected. He wants us to be even more engaged on this than the federal government.

Kevin: The President has received a lot of criticism for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Did you get a sense that he’s worried the law will be able to survive the political fallout?

Goodwin: We had a very in-depth, 50 minutes with the President and he said that the politics would handle itself. he wanted to make sure that the states and the consumers are better off than before the law was passed. He was expressing very serious concern about making sure that the problems were solved in whatever way that means.