The Obama administration's announcement Wednesday that allows a two-year extension for individual health insurance policies that don't conform to the health care law applies nationwide -- but only to states that agree to the plan, according to a spokeswoman with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
In California, even if the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown approve the extension by changing current law, most of the 1.1 million Californians whose non-conforming plans were canceled last year wouldn't likely benefit, a state Insurance Department official said Thursday.
Janice Rocco, deputy commissioner of health care policy, said there are "very few people left'' with pre-2014 policies who would be able to take advantage of Wednesday's decision because state law says that after Jan. 1, 2014, insurance plans that don't comply with the Affordable Care Act cannot be sold or renewed.
But if lawmakers agree to change the law, she said, small businesses with renewal dates at the end of 2014 could be given extensions.
The cancellation last fall of at least 4.7 million individual policies was one of the most politically volatile issues in the transition to the new health insurance system, often called Obamacare.
Bowing to public anger over the issue, Obama in November issued a directive allowing millions of Americans to extend their current non-compliant insurance policies through 2014, as long as the state insurance commissioners and health insurers agreed.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones asked health plans to extend those non-compliant policies through 2014. But the plans, several of which control the majority of California's individual insurance market and are participating on the Covered California insurance exchange, pushed back. As part of agreeing to join the exchange, their contracts had included a clause insisting that any non-compliant plans be canceled by Dec. 31.
A week later, the five-member board of Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, unanimously voted to rebuff Obama's directive.
Still, a Dec. 19 federal directive allows anyone with a canceled policy to claim a "hardship exemption'' that would allow them to be uninsured in 2014 without having to pay a federal penalty. Those people also can buy a cheaper, bare-bones "catastrophic" insurance plan, an option that had previously been available under Obamacare to people under 30.