JEFFERSON CITY — While the White House, insurance departments and policyholders across the country anticipated compliance with federal health care law provisions implemented Sept. 23, major insurance companies had something else in mind: ending their child-only policies.
"Right now, there's almost no child-only stuff left in Missouri," said Travis Ford, communications director for the Missouri Department of Insurance. "If you blink, a lot of things change."
Only days before the law that forbade denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions took effect, insurance companies nationwide released statements saying they would no longer offer child-only plans, Ford said.
"The fear is — and this is a legitimate concern — that since all children have to be accepted, no matter what their health condition is, that some parents might wait until their kids get sick to then buy insurance from them," Ford said. "Insurance doesn't work very well if only sick people buy it."
Until this week, many insurance companies said they planned to continue providing child-only policies.
"The insurance protection lobby, AHIP, had previously stated their willingness to abide by the law and not make the decision that we see several of these insurers made," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
Gibbs said that although child-only policies make up a small percentage of the individual health insurance market, he was still disappointed in the decision to eliminate the coverage.
"I think it's obviously very unfortunate that insurance companies continue to make decisions on the backs of children and families that need their help," he said.
The state's largest insurer, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, currently provides 1,500 child-only policies in Missouri, Ford said. Those plans represent roughly 2 percent of the company's total individual plans, he said.
"As long as those (existing) contracts last, they'll be enforced," Ford said. However, when a policyholder tries to renew a current plan, he said, "It might go away."
Two representatives for Anthem did not return calls made Thursday afternoon.
Ford said the insurance department is trying to persuade the companies to bring back the child-only policies.
"(State insurance departments) are working with these carriers to try to work out a negotiation to where they can continue offering this product in a way that's financially feasible for both the insurance company and the consumer," Ford said. "Whether or not those talks and negotiations will be successful, we don't know, but we would like to see this product still be offered in Missouri."
The insurance department was not aware of the changes in policy offerings until they were reported by the press, Ford said.
"There's no requirement that they inform us of plans to discontinue products," Ford said. "They have to get our approval if they start offering a product but not if they discontinue."