The Obama administration announced Thursday a new accommodation for consumers whose insurance companies canceled their plans to meet Obamacare regulations. The rule allows some affected customers to claim a hardship exemption from the individual health insurance mandate and purchase catastrophic coverage on the government’s health insurance marketplace.
A hardship exemption is available to any consumer who does not have insurance—either because they were previously uninsured or their plans were canceled—and cannot afford coverage available on the health insurance marketplace. Previously, individuals under age 30 could buy catastrophic coverage if they had a hardship exemption. The new change lifts the age limit for those whose plans were canceled by Obamacare.
The conciliatory gesture still does not guarantee comparable insurance for people with canceled plans, but it does give them a lower-cost option for coverage than what was previously available. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the new loophole in a letter to a group of Democratic lawmakers. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wrote to Sebelius on Wednesday requesting hardship exemptions for Americans whose plans were not renewed by President Barack Obama’s previous “fix” to health insurance cancellations. That measure allowed insurance companies to renew previously canceled plans for 2014, but not all insurers and states chose to do so.
“We have heard from many of our constituents who are upset about the cancellation of their health care plans,” the letter read. “We believe the population of individuals whose plans were canceled need to have as many options as possible.”
Among the senators who signed the letter, Landrieu, Shaheen, and Warner are up for reelection in 2014, and both Landrieu and Shaheen are expected to face tough competition.
Landrieu has taken steps to shield herself from negative public reaction to Obamacare. In November, she authored a bill to allow people to keep their canceled plans. Obama preempted the bill by issuing his fix, but Landrieu’s move may have given her some political cover in her home state of Louisiana.
In her response to the senators, Sebelius said HHS had established a hotline for people with canceled plans to receive more information about their coverage options. Consumers can call the hotline at 866-837-0677.