NC OKs subsidized insurance plans for online healthcare market

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJuly 30, 2013 

North Carolina insurance officials announced Tuesday that they have approved health plans that will be available with federal subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Approval by the N.C. Department of Insurance marks a major milestone for subsidized health care in the state, a cornerstone of the White House’s strategy for managing runaway costs and providing a safety net for the nation’s uninsured population.

The health plans now await federal certification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is expected to decide in September which insurance plans can be offered in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, rates, deductibles and other details of the plans remain sealed as corporate trade secrets under state law. They will be posted online by the federal agency by Oct. 1, the date the new health care marketplace opens for enrollment.

“Coverage options will vary by county,” the N.C. Department of Insurance said in its release. “As the federal government will be operating the marketplace in North Carolina, it will make the final decision as to which plans may be sold through the marketplace in this state.”

Three insurers, 60 plans

Three insurance companies filed more than 60 plans between them, but N.C. insurance regulators refused to say how many plans were approved.

Spokeswoman Kerry Hall said even that information is a trade secret under state law. Only Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina plans to offer subsidized coverage in all 100 counties of the state.

Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas will offer subsidized plans in some parts of the state and FirstCarolinaCare will operate in just six counties.

More than 1 million North Carolinians are expected to sign up for subsidized insurance by the Jan. 1 deadline on which the policies become effective. Many will qualify for subsidies, called premium tax credits, that will average $5,000 a year for those who fall within certain income levels.

Costs still unknown

Blue Cross warned in May that younger customers and others who typically pay below-average premiums would see steep rate increases under the Affordable Care Act. Blue Cross would not say whether that remains true under the plans approved Tuesday.

“We don’t want our competitors, who aren’t participating in the marketplace or choosing only a few key counties, to have a heads up on what we’re doing,” said Blue Cross spokesman Lew Borman.

The law makes insurance coverage mandatory and provides subsidies to offset costs for many. Subsidies will be available to individuals with annual income up to $45,960 a year, and a family of four with household income up to $94,200.

The law makes it illegal to deny coverage or charge more because of health status or a pre-existing condition.

More information about the Affordable Care Act is available at www.HealthCare.gov.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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