State, Federal Governments Loosen Short-Term Health Policy Regulations, Put Oklahoma Consumers At Risk

By Consumers For Quality Care, on June 19, 2019

State, Federal Governments Loosen Short-Term Health Policy Regulations, Put Oklahoma Consumers At Risk

As consumers look for affordable health care, short-term limited-duration insurance plans can often seem attractive. However, these policies often leave individuals vulnerable, with coverage gaps and the potential for expensive surprise bills. Actions taken by both the federal government and the Oklahoma legislature may leave consumers in the state even more susceptible to the negative consequences of these plans, according to KGOU.

Short-term limited-duration plans can be purchased on state exchanges for often a fraction of the cost of other plans on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. But unlike ACA-compliant plans, short-term limited-duration plans are not required to accept consumers with pre-existing conditions or cover some essential health benefits, like maternal and mental health care. In the past, short-term plans were meant to be used as temporary coverage for consumers who experienced gaps and were available for a duration of up to 6 months.

The recent federal government changes along with those implemented by some states will allow consumers to buy the plans for a duration of up to 3 years. The Oklahoma legislature passed a state bill that mimics the federal extension to a 36-month window for these plans and the change is set to take effect on Nov. 1.

The move has opened a debate as to whether Oklahomans should have more variety in the plans and price-points available, or if plans should be required to provide key benefits to consumers.

“It harkens back to the old days when the market was more of a wild west,” said Sara Collins, vice president of health-care coverage and access for the Commonwealth Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports universal health care. “It can be a very risky plan for people to buy compared to other insurance policies that might be more comprehensive.”

Democratic Rep. Forrest Bennett said the legislation was “cruel” and would lead to insurance companies selling “shoddy” plans.

“People in my district are going to be the ones buying this product, and they are going to get hurt or sick and they are going to go the hospital and find out they don’t have that type of coverage,” he said. ““This is affordable because it’s not quality health insurance.”

While there are no estimates on how many Oklahoma consumers are currently enrolled in short-term limited-duration plans, it is expected that 70,000 individuals will enroll in one due to the rule change. The state has continued to have one of the country’s highest uninsured rates and most costly premiums, with consumer advocates worried that  the limited plans could further harm some Oklahomans.