Oregon unsure about effect of health care twist

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) It's unclear how Oregon will be affected by President Barack Obama's decision to allow the continued sale of insurance plans that would have been cancelled by year's end because they don't comply with the Affordable Health Care Act, state officials said Thursday.

The state's Insurance Division is still looking into the implications of Obama's announcement, said Cheryl Martinis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which oversees the Insurance Division.

About 145,000 Oregonians have received cancellation notices. Most insurance companies have said they plan to automatically move these people onto new though possibly more expensive policies if they didn't enroll on their own via Oregon's online exchange.

But the exchange, known as Cover Oregon, has been plagued by technical problems and has not enrolled a single person. The state has received just 8,800 paper applications and has processed only a small fraction, though Oregon recently hired 400 workers to manually process the applications.

Obama's change of direction allows individual health insurance companies to continue selling the noncompliant plans until 2014. The plans would be closed to anyone not currently enrolled. Insurers would also be required to notify consumers that alternatives exist under "Obamacare," and to specify the areas in which current plans fall short of the coverage required in the new law.

But what insurance companies will do in response is still unknown.

"We don't yet have details on how the announcement will impact our customers," said PacificSource Health Plans spokeswoman Colleen Thompson. "We're working directly with the state insurance departments to determine next steps."

State Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali must also approve a plan to stop policy cancellations.

The Insurance Division recently considered requiring insurance companies to delay the policy cancellations until the end of March. But officials decided against it earlier this week because it might create more complications and confusion.

Now Cali is again under increasing pressure to delay the planned cancellations.

"Oregonians should not be denied access to plans they already hold when there are impediments to obtaining new plans," Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said in a statement.

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