As turmoil over terminated health insurance policies continues across the nation, Anthem Blue Cross of California on Tuesday became the latest company to grant a brief extension to some of its customers.
The company announced the move after failing to issue timely notices, allowing roughly 104,000 consumers with expiring policies to keep their coverage through February 28. Typically, only those who purchased plans before the March 2010 passage of the federal health care law meet the cutoff for "grandfathered" status.
"The affected members were inadvertently omitted from the original mailing," said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross.
Policyholders have until Dec. 15 to notify the company to temporarily extend their plans.
Upward of 1 million Californians are receiving letters informing them their plans do not comply with the federal health care overhaul. Officials from the state exchange, Covered California, estimate nearly 600,000 people who buy their own insurance plans should expect to pay more.
Millions more nationwide are having similar experiences, prompting an apology from President Barack Obama who for years promised that those who like their policies would be able to keep them. In an interview published Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton said Obama should "honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they've got."
White House officials have said they are exploring administrative options.
In California, those with terminated policies are being given the option to enroll in comparable plans - with some qualifying for subsidies. Amid the backlash, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is conducting a review to ensure customers were given enough notice in advance of the Dec. 31 terminations.
Jones and Blue Shield of California last week announced a settlement that will allow roughly 113,000 customers in 80,000 households to remain on their plans for an extra three months. The company agreed to the extension after Jones threatened to sue over customers not receiving a 180-day notice.
On Tuesday, Jones said if all of the Anthem policyholders in question kept their current plans they would save about $23 million through February.
"So far we have not found any other defects in notification requirements," Jones said.
The health care law requires nearly everyone to obtain insurance or pay a penalty. The first open-enrollment period extends through March 31, but those looking to avoid lapses must purchase plans by Dec. 15 for coverage by Jan. 1.
Health care advocates believe even customers getting temporary reprieves may be better served by exploring their options on the exchange and elsewhere, where they could purchase more comprehensive plans and possibly qualify under the state's expansion of Medi-Cal.
Separately, Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest insurer and a unit of WellPoint Inc., was hit with a pair of lawsuits last week alleging the company lured thousands of policyholders out of grandfathered plans and into policies the company was aware would be cancelled.
PHOTO: Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones calls for Anthem Blue Cross to reduce it's planned rate increase on small group major medical policyholders during a news conference in Sacramento on Jan. 8. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli