Monday marked the end of the comment period on a proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services to allow short-term health insurance plans to provide coverage for as long as 364 days, up from a current limit of three months. And the government got plenty of comments on the plan, with a wide range of medical advocacy and trade groups warning that it could be dangerous for the health care system as a whole.
“We are concerned that this proposed rule will lead to more people being uninsured and under-insured, and to higher costs in the long run,” Matt Eyles, the incoming president and CEO of AHIP, the country’s largest trade group for health insurance companies, said in a statement. “Short-term plans can provide an important temporary bridge for comprehensive coverage. But they are not a replacement for comprehensive coverage.”
AHIP says short-term plans should be limited to six months instead of 12.
How short-term plans stack up: The expansion of short-term insurance with less stringent coverage requirements could lead to significantly lower premiums for people who buy those plans, according to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. But those plans likely won’t cover prescription drugs, maternity care or other benefits considered essential under the Affordable Care Act.
“As a result, people who buy short-term policies today in order to reduce their monthly premiums take a risk that, if they do need medical care, they could be left with uncovered bills and/or find themselves ‘uninsurable’ under such plans in the future (though they would be able to buy ACA-compliant policies at the next open enrollment period),” the report said.
The Kaiser researchers reviewed 24 short-term plans currently sold in 45 states and the District of Columbia. They found that:
- The plans often offered premiums that were 20 percent cheaper than the lowest-cost ACA bronze plan.
- But 43 percent of current short-term plans don’t cover mental health services, 62 percent don’t cover substance abuse treatment, 71 percent don’t cover outpatient prescription drugs and none covers maternity care. And even when they do cover those areas, “limitations and exclusions almost always apply that would not be permitted under ACA-compliant plans.”
What’s at stake: “The Trump administration’s proposal to build up short-term health insurance plans as a ‘lifeline’ for people who can’t afford Affordable Care Act coverage could split the insurance market in two, siphoning young, healthy people into cheaper, more minimal plans — while those who remain in ACA plans face premiums that spiral upward even faster,” writes The Washington Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson.