WASHINGTON – Americans thinking about buying health insurance on their own later this year, or maybe switching to a different insurer, are probably out of luck. The policies are going off the market as a little-noticed consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
With limited exceptions, insurance companies have stopped selling until next year the sorts of individual plans that used to be available year-round. That locks out many of the young and healthy as well as the sick and injured, even those who can afford to buy without government subsidies.
Now they’re stuck, said Bonnie Milani, an independent insurance broker in Los Angeles, who says she warned her customers last year that the change was coming. It just closes everything down.
The next wide-open chance to sign up comes in November, when enrollment for 2015 begins in the government-run insurance marketplaces created by the health care law. Companies are following that schedule even for the plans they sell outside the federal and state exchanges.
The health care law allows insurers to keep selling all year. But it also creates the conditions prompting them to stop.
The law, which requires nearly all Americans to be insured or pay a fine, bans insurers from rejecting customers because of poor health. The companies say that makes it too risky to sell to individuals year-round.
If you didn’t have an open enrollment period, you would have people who would potentially enroll when they get sick and dis-enroll when they get better, said Chris Stenrud, spokesman for insurer Kaiser Permanente. The only insured people would be sick people, which would make insurance unaffordable for everyone.
The change makes individual policies work more like the job-based plans that already cover far more Americans.
But those who act fast may still be able to get in this year, depending on where they live.
Following the lead of the government marketplaces, some companies are extending off-marketplace sales for a week or a month to help people who hit snags trying to enroll by last Monday’s deadline. Rules vary from state to state.
After those extensions, eligibility for coverage during 2014 is guaranteed only for people who experience certain qualifying life events, such as losing a job that provided insurance, moving to a new state, getting married or having a baby.