International Insurance News: US releases new health insurance reform rules

The US administration proposed new health insurance rules aimed at ending discrimination against the sick and guaranteeing minimum benefits for millions of Americans who are expected to obtain coverage under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law.

The rules, unveiled by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, provide states and insurers with details about how the Obama administration intends to achieve its long-stated goals of guaranteeing access to those with preexisting conditions and making affordable coverage available to families through new online health insurance exchanges.

The administration also proposed rules laying out new consumer protections for wellness and other preventive healthcare coverage. The public has 30-60 days to comment on the proposals before the government finalizes them. The proposed measures were likely to come under fire from healthcare reform opponents including a growing number of Republican governors who have rejected the provisions calling on states to operate their own healthcare exchanges beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

States have until Dec. 14, under a newly extended deadline, to tell the Department of Health and Human Services whether they intend to pursue their own healthcare exchanges, which are designed to offer consumers private insurance at subsidized rates beginning in October with open enrollment.

About 17 states have told the administration they plan to move ahead on exchanges, while at least eight Republican governors in recent days have rejected the plan outright or opted to cooperate with Washington in setting up a hybrid federal partnership exchange. Still more states, which delayed implementation in hopes that Republican Mitt Romney would win the presidential election earlier this month and repeal the law, are only now deciding what to do and had called on the administration for more time and information.

Meanwhile, the administration is moving ahead to complete rule making to ensure timely implementation. “The information we’re putting out today will answer many of the states’ remaining questions, as will additional guidance to be issued in the days and weeks ahead,” Sebelius said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m confident states will have what they need to move forward with creating these critical new health insurance markets,” she said.

Sebelius said she would “sit down” with governors to discuss their concerns in the coming weeks, but provided no details. State-level opposition and lethargy have raised concerns about whether the administration can establish functioning exchanges in states that need them. But administration officials insisted on Tuesday that the system will be up and running in all 50 states and the District of Columbia when the healthcare law comes fully into force in 2014.

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