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Published November 21, 2013, 02:49 PM

Hamm urges renewal of canceled health plans

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm on Thursday asked health insurance companies doing business in the state to renew policies that are being canceled under the federal health care law.

By: BLAKE NICHOLSON, Associated Press, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm on Thursday asked health insurance companies doing business in the state to renew policies that are being canceled under the federal health care law.

Millions of people nationwide who buy their own insurance have gotten cancellation notices because their plans don't meet the higher benefit requirements of the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama earlier this month reversed course and said those customers would be allowed to keep their existing plans for another year. However, the final decision still lies with insurers and state insurance commissioners.

In many states, insurance companies have already phased out the old individual plans and have said re-establishing them would be difficult. Insurance commissioners in some states have decided against urging insurers to renew canceled policies.

"This was a very close call for me on this issue, but at the end of the day my overriding concern is what's in the best interest of the almost 36,000 North Dakotans that have or will be losing their health insurance coverage through no fault of their own," Hamm said. "The president repeatedly made a promise to them and to all Americans that if they liked their health insurance plan they could keep it. As such, that promise should be kept."

However, Hamm said he does not think renewals are a long-term solution. Some industry officials and state insurance commissioners, including Hamm, warn that renewals could lead to higher prices.

"Moving forward, Congress should look at taking legislative action to ensure the president's promise is kept that any American who wants to keep their health insurance plan will be able to do so," Hamm said.

Consumers whose health insurance policies are being canceled effective Jan. 1 should contact their insurance company for more information, Hamm said.

Sanford Health Plan will grant any consumer requests for renewals, though it will not be easy, President Ruth Krystopolski said.

"We're asking for them to be patient," she said. "We spent three years to get ready for the change to these ACA-compliant plans; to have five weeks to undo everything we did over the last few years, it's quite onerous."

Representatives of Medica and Blue Cross Blue Shield North Dakota did not immediately respond to Hamm's request.

The three companies sell coverage on the Healthcare.gov website. North Dakota is one of 36 states where the federal government is running the online marketplace.

About 42,500 North Dakota residents, or roughly 6 percent of the state, were covered by individual plans at the end of 2013, according to state insurance records.

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