Tuesday October 6th, 2015 12:31PM

Sticker shock often follows insurance cancellation

By The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) -- Dean Griffin liked the health insurance he purchased for himself and his wife three years ago and thought he'd be able to keep the plan even after the federal Affordable Care Act took effect.

But the 64-year-old recently received a letter notifying him the plan was being canceled because it didn't cover certain benefits required under the law.

The Griffins, who live near Philadelphia, pay $770 monthly for their soon-to-be-terminated health care plan with a $2,500 deductible. The cheapest plan they found on their state insurance exchange was a so-called bronze plan charging a $1,275 monthly premium with deductibles totaling $12,700. It covers only providers in Pennsylvania, so the couple, who live near Delaware, won't be able to see doctors they've used for more than a decade.

"We're buying insurance that we will never use and can't possibly ever benefit from. We're basically passing on a benefit to other people who are not otherwise able to buy basic insurance," said Griffin, who is retired from running an information technology company.

The Griffins are among millions of people nationwide who buy individual insurance policies and are receiving notices that those policies are being discontinued because they don't meet the higher benefit requirements of the new law.

They can buy different policies directly from insurers for 2014 or sign up for plans on state insurance exchanges. While lower-income people could see lower costs because of government subsidies, many in the middle class may get rude awakenings when they access the websites and realize they'll have to pay significantly more.

Those not eligible for subsidies generally receive more comprehensive coverage than they had under their soon-to-be-canceled policies, but they'll have to pay a lot more.

Because of the higher cost, the Griffins are considering paying the federal penalty - about $100 or 1 percent of income next year - rather than buying health insurance. They say they are healthy and don't typically run up large health care costs. Dean Griffin said that will be cheaper because it's unlikely they will get past the nearly $13,000 deductible for the coverage to kick in.

Individual health insurance policies are being canceled because the Affordable Care Act requires plans to cover certain benefits, such as maternity care, hospital visits and mental illness. The law also caps annual out-of-pocket costs consumers will pay each year.

In the past, consumers could get relatively inexpensive, bare-bones coverage, but those plans will no longer be available. Many consumers are frustrated by what they call forced upgrades as they're pushed into plans with coverage options they don't necessarily want.

Ken Davis, who manages a fast food restaurant in Austin, Texas, is recovering from sticker shock after the small-business policy offered by his employer was canceled for the same reasons individual policies are being discontinued.

His company pays about $100 monthly for his basic health plan. He said he'll now have to pay $600 monthly for a mid-tier silver plan on the state exchange. The family policy also covers his 8-year-old son. Even though the federal government is contributing a $500 subsidy, he said the $600 he's left to pay is too high. He's considering the penalty.

"I feel like they're forcing me to do something that I don't want to do or need to do," Davis, 40, said.

Owners of canceled policies have a few options. They can stay in the same plan for the same price for one more year if they have one of the few plans that were grandfathered in. They can buy a similar plan with upgraded benefits that meets the new standards - likely at a significant cost increase. Or, if they make less than $45,960 for a single adult or $94,200 for a family of four, they may qualify for subsidies.

Just because a policy doesn't comply with the law doesn't mean consumers will get cancellation letters. They may get notices saying existing policies are being amended with new benefits and will come with higher premiums. Some states, including Virginia and Kentucky, required insurers to cancel old policies and start from scratch instead of beefing up existing ones.

It's unclear how many individual plans are being canceled - no one agency keeps track. But it's likely in the millions. Insurance industry experts estimate that about 14 million people, or 5 percent of the total market for health care coverage, buy individual policies. Most people get coverage through jobs and aren't affected.

Many states require insurers to give consumers 90 days' notice before canceling plans. That means another round of cancellation letters will go out in March and again in May.

Experts haven't been able to predict how many will pay more or less under the new, upgraded plans. An older policyholder with a pre-existing condition may find that premiums go down, and some will qualify for subsidies.

In California, about 900,000 people are expected to lose existing plans, but about a third will be eligible for subsidies through the state exchange, said Anne Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the exchange, called Covered California. Most canceled plans provided bare-bones coverage, she said.

"They basically had plans that had gaping holes in the coverage. They would be surprised when they get to the emergency room or the doctor's office, some of them didn't have drug coverage or preventive care," Gonzalez said.

About 330,000 Floridians received cancellation notices from the state's largest insurer, Florida Blue. About 30,000 have plans that were grandfathered in. Florida insurance officials said they're not tracking the number of canceled policies related to the new law.

National numbers are similar: 130,000 cancellations in Kentucky, 140,000 in Minnesota and as many as 400,000 in Georgia, according to officials in those states.

Cigna has sent thousands of cancellation letters to U.S. policyholders but stressed that 99 percent have the option of renewing their 2013 policy for one more year, company spokesman Joe Mondy said.

Cancellation letters are being sent only to individuals and families who purchase their own insurance. However, most policyholders in the individual market will receive some notice that their coverage will change, said Dan Mendelson, president of the market analysis firm Avalere Health.

The cancellations run counter to one of President Barack Obama's promises about his health care overhaul: "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan."

Philip Johnson, 47, of Boise, Idaho, was shocked when his cancellation notice arrived last month. The gift-shop owner said he'd spent years arranging doctors covered by his insurer for him, his wife and their two college-age students.

After browsing the state exchange, he said he thinks he'll end up paying lower premiums but higher deductibles. He said the website didn't answer many of his questions, such as which doctors take which plans.

"I was furious because I spent a lot of time and picked a plan that all my doctors accepted," Johnson said. "Now I don't know what doctors are going to take what. No one mentioned that for the last three years when they talked about how this was going to work."
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
UN is next stop for Obama after success with Iran, pope; top issues are IS, Syria, Russia
NEW YORK (AP) — Fresh from successes on Iran and with the pope, President Barack Obama still carried heavy burdens into critical meetings this week at the U.N. General Assembly.They include the threat...
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
Stunning Congress, House Speaker Boehner announces plans to resign; tea party declares victory
WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging Congress into deeper turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly announced his resignation Friday, shutting down a tea party drive to depose the nation's highest-ranking Re...
6:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Tornado heavily damages 10 homes but causes no injuries on island in South Carolina
JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A tornado quickly blew through a neighborhood on the South Carolina coast early Friday and blew out windows, knocked down trees and heavily damaged ten homes.The tornado touc...
5:08PM ( 1 week ago )
Caterpillar says it may cut more than 10,000 jobs by 2018, lowers 2015 revenue expectation
Caterpillar is planning another round of job cuts that could exceed 10,000 people through 2018, as the construction and mining equipment maker adjusts to downturns in key markets.That could amount to...
10:06AM ( 1 week ago )
Escaped tarantula grounds Atlanta-bound flight in Baltimore
An eight-legged creature that escaped in the cargo hold of a passenger flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International grounded the plane and sent passengers onto another flight.
By The Associated Press
9:06AM ( 1 week ago )