4 questions to consider about insurance extensions

Insurance experts say there are a number of obstacles that could keep insurers from letting customers renew old policies that the companies had planned to scrap for 2014. Here's what you need to know if you have received a cancellation notice:

1. What will my insurer do?

Your insurer likely doesn't know yet.

Aetna Inc., the nation's third largest health insurer, plans to extend some of its canceled policies, but it hasn't elaborated on that.

Robert Laszewski, a health care industry consultant, said he expects other insurers to make a decision over the next couple days.

2. Can't insurers just continue the coverage they had in place?

The decision is far more complex.

For starters, insurers would need to figure out how much to charge since they haven't set premiums, or the price of coverage, for plans they expected to scrap. They have to consider how the coverage will be used and how prices have risen before settling on what they need to collect to cover future claims.

They also have to send letters to customers with canceled policies, telling them that the coverage can now be renewed. They also have to inform customers who want to keep canceled plans about any protections that are now required by the overhaul but that are not included under the old plans.

Insurers then have to wait for customers to decide whether to keep the coverage and respond. Then they must finalize their rates, change their billing for the different rates and reissue the policies.

All this adds up several months of work. But insurers would have to do all this in about 30 days in order to have coverage ready to start on Jan. 1.

3. Are there other reasons the insurer can't keep my plan?

Yes. State insurance regulators have to decide whether to allow insurers to do this. Oregon's regulator has said she will allow insurers to extend the policies.

4. What can I do if I don't getto renew my coverage?

Customers still have until Dec. 15 to sign up for health insurance coverage that starts in January. The premiums they find may be higher because the law requires more extensive coverage than what some plans currently offer. But customers also may be eligible for income-based tax credits to help them foot the bill.

Many insurers also are letting policyholders renew their coverage early, which would let them keep their plans through most of 2014.

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