In a surprising move, three of the nation’s largest health insurance companies said Monday that they will voluntarily offer several popular benefits in ‘Obamacare’ even if the law is struck down by the Supreme Court later this month.
UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna say they will continue to let young adults remain on a parent’s plan until age 26 and to provide preventive health services without co-pays, whatever the verdict is on the law. UnitedHealthcare and Humana, but not Aetna, also vowed to eliminate lifetime dollar limits on insurance policies and to stop canceling policies unless the policyholder engaged in fraud.
What no insurer agreed to do: guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Continuing those particular elements of health care reform, which are relatively minor components of the law and less burdensome for insurers, is a way to signal to consumers that insurance companies are making an effort. It could mitigate some of the political blowback insurance companies will surely face if the popular — and expensive —regulation prohibiting discrimination against sick people is no longer law. Insurers don’t believe guaranteed coverage is tenable without an individual mandate — and experts broadly agree. So preserving other well-liked benefits could help save face with the public.
“All about the numbers,” said a health industry lobbyist. “Always, all about the numbers.”
If other insurers follow suit, and continuing these elements of Obamacare becomes the industry norm, Monday’s move could ease the pressure on Republicans to pass a law reinstating popular provisions the Supreme Court may strike down. In recent weeks, GOP lawmakers have been grappling with the potential fallout, and laying the groundwork to shift in favor of some of its popular pieces.
“Today’s announcement is a reminder that sensible health care reform does not require the massive government takeover in Washington Democrats’ law, which is hurting our economy by driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
And it also makes it politically easier for Republicans — who have been eager to support the under-26 provision as of late — to stand by their promise of total repeal. “It reinforces our commitment to what we have stated all along: the law needs to be repealed in its entirety, and that will be our objective in the wake of any court ruling that leaves any part of the law on the books,” Steel said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to weigh in on Monday afternoon.
“I’m not going to speculate on an outcome that we do not believe will come to pass, because we are confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional,” he said during a press briefing.
More broadly, the insurers’ move reflects that — even though repeal would be a huge blow for millions of people — some of the reforms ‘Obamacare’ set in motion are poised to continue regardless by way of changing the established or acceptable norm.
“A number of provisions in the health reform law have been woven into the fabric of our health care system, bring value to customers and consumers, and should be maintained,” Aetna said in an emailed statement.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.