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    Friday, October 07, 2022

    Blumenthal says new 'short-term' health plans would shortchange Americans

    Norwich — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., capped a four-stop tour of the state here Thursday afternoon, discussing with United Community and Family Services officials the Trump administration’s adoption of new rules allowing for the sale and renewal of so-called “short-term, limited duration” health plans for extended periods.

    Referring to such plans as “junk insurance,” Blumenthal said he’s waging a campaign to persuade the state’s insurance commissioner, Katharine Wade, to ban or amend the new rules. 

    “I hope we can advocate together,” he said, addressing Cara Westcott, chief operating officer of UCFS, which serves more than 18,000 people in southeastern Connecticut.

    Earlier in the day, Blumenthal visited community health centers in Norwalk, Hartford and Willimantic.

    A final version of the new rules, which were first proposed in February in response to an executive order issued in October by President Donald Trump, came out Wednesday. The rules allow for health plans offering coverage for an initial period of up to a year and, with extensions, a maximum duration of up to three years.

    “This action will help increase choices for Americans faced with escalating premiums and dwindling options in the individual insurance market,” the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury announced.

    Previously, short-term plans, exempt from provisions of the Affordable Care Act, were restricted to three months’ duration. They were designed to provide coverage for people transitioning between jobs and between school and employment and for those without access to subsidized ACA plans.

    Blumenthal said plans offered under the new rules would provide Americans with fewer benefits and “almost no protections,” diverting healthy patients from state health exchanges and “sabotaging ACA,” also popularly known as Obamacare.

    “These plans are like Swiss cheese with more holes than cheese,” he said. “They offer no protection for those with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, pregnancy, cancer ... They are, in fact, junk.”

    Coverage of prescription drugs would be limited, while deductibles would be higher and caps on lifetime reimbursements lower, Blumenthal said.

    Westcott said she was concerned that people would find the new rules confusing and that the costs and burdens on health centers like UCFS, as well as on hospital emergency rooms, would increase if large numbers of people turned to the new short-term plans.

    People may only see that the new plans offer reduced premiums without noting that deductibles and other costs are higher, said Brianna Weller, supervisor of community outreach for UCFS.

    “As a woman of child-bearing age, I’d be worried,” she said, noting that the new plans would regard pregnancy as a pre-existing condition.

    Deberey Hinchey, UCFS vice president of behavioral health services, said the plans could place an unfair burden on those with disabilities that make it difficult for them to read or comprehend “the fine print.” Under the new rules, a pre-existing mental illness would not be covered.

    Blumenthal said that while “the prospects of the U.S. Congress standing up to insurance companies are slim in the short term,” he supports pending federal legislation known as the Fair Care Act that would block greater access to “junk insurance” plans.

    Unless a state acts, the new short-term plans can be offered in that state in 60 days.

    “At this point we are reviewing the regulation before making any determination,” a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Insurance Department wrote in an email.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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