Regence to stop selling child-only health plans
Regence BlueShield announced Tuesday that it will stop selling new child-only individual insurance policies by the end of this week.
The move comes less than a week after several provisions of the federal health care overhaul went into effect, including one that prevents insurance companies from excluding children with potentially costly pre-existing conditions.
Regence BlueShield is the first plan to stop selling child-only individual plans in Washington state, effective Friday. Several health insurers, including UnitedHealth Group Inc., Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc., already said they would stop selling new child-only individual insurance policies in other states, although those children can still get coverage through a family plan in the individual market.
Individual insurance is coverage that is not offered through an employer, and includes both single and family coverage.
Regence spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said that only about 3 percent of their policies in Washington state are child-only individual plans, and that those won't be affected.
"They're not a very common thing," she said. "We provide coverage for a majority of children through family policies."
Cunningham said Regence will also no longer sell child-only plans in Oregon and Utah.
The provision in the new health care law tries to allay cost concerns by allowing insurers to sign up children only during a fixed annual enrollment period. That is designed to discourage parents from waiting until their child gets sick before they buy coverage.
Last week, Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued an emergency rule creating a special open-enrollment period from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.
"A special enrollment period drastically limits the carriers' risk and should more than address their concerns," Kreidler said in a statement. "By pulling out of this market, Regence just cut off vital coverage for working families."
People can still add children to their Regence family plans, without having to take a health screen, during that special enrollment period. Anyone wanting to buy a child-only individual plan will need to go to another insurance company, though other companies may choose to follow suit.
Eric Earling, a spokesman for Premera Blue Cross, said that they are monitoring Regence's decision.
"For now, we are selling child-only policies and it's our desire to continue to do so," he wrote in an e-mail. "However, given the new law, it's important that all major carriers share the risk and costs."