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Highmark will offer 'grandmothered' insurance plans

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Highmark's small-employer business clients will be able to keep their current health plans for an additional year, the insurer announced this morning.

"This means customers with renewal dates between July and December 2014 will be able to delay for at least another year having to enroll in potentially costlier health plans that reflect new 2014 requirements of the Affordable Care Act," the insurer said in a news release.

Such renewals have been dubbed grandmothered plans because of their conceptual similarity to the noncompliant grandfathered plans allowed under health care reform. The difference is that grandfathered plans needed to be purchased before March 24, 2010, whereas grandmothered plans can have been started anytime so long as they are currently being offered at the member companies.

Highmark, which is based in Pittsburgh but insures about 1 million people in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, said almost 200,000 people — about 60,000 of them in Central Pennsylvania — stand to benefit from the decision.

The federal government announced last month that health insurers — with approval from their state insurance commissioners — could offer small-employer customers the option to renew existing plans beyond 2014. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department subsequently said it was up to individual insurers to decide if they want to offer existing clients the option to renew their pre-Affordable Care Act plans.

"We expect the majority of our small employer clients to stay with their current plans, but Highmark offers a wide variety of plans that are compliant with the Affordable Care Act and meet the needs of our members," Deborah Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plan, said in a news release.

Whether small-employer businesses choose to renew their current plans or opt to purchase new plans that reflect new 2014 requirements of the Affordable Care Act, renewal rates will vary based on the insured group, Highmark said.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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