In a rebuke of both Californians with soon-to-be-cancelled insurance plans and President Obama's call for an extension of those plans, officials say the state will insist those plans end on Dec. 31.
"I believe in the greatest good for the greatest number, but this is very hard on some people that have done the right thing," said state Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley.
Dooley and the other four members of the Covered California board voted Thursday to implement some new programs to ease the transition for Californians whose individual insurance plans are being cancelled. But they rejected two proposals to allow those insurance plans to be extended into 2014 -- one plan that would have allowed the plans to stay in place through the end of March, another that would have allowed the plans to remain active through the end of next year.
"Delaying the transition is not going to solve a single problem," said Covered California board member Susan Kennedy, who championed health care reform as the former chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It just pushes the problem down the road, makes it more complicated, more difficult, more confusing."
The decision came one week after President Obama, bowing to criticism that he'd promised Americans could keep plans they like, proposed a one year extension of plans that fail to meet the standards set out in the Affordable Care Act.
Those standards often require coverage for a greater variety of health services than do the 'catastrophic plans' that must now be phased out.
So far, 13 states have agreed with Obama's decision to extend through 2014 those plans that don't comply with the federal law. California becomes the ninth state to refuse to do so -- and the most important, with some seven million uninsured citizens and the largest proving ground for the law's success.
All who testified before the Covered California board on Thursday urged the panel to refuse any extension, even though the early buzz had been that officials would allow the plans to remain in place through the end of March.
"It feels like we're having a conversation about the pre-nup after the wedding," said Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit business group. "And it's very, very late in the game to be talking about these sorts of things -- in fact, too late."
California's insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, had been urging the health exchange to allow extra time. Over the past two weeks, he's pushed two insurers -- Blue Shield and Anthem -- to offer extended coverage for some of the soon-to-be-nixed plans.
"I am surprised, given that the president made very clear that he'd like to have the opportunity for people to renew," said Jones on Thursday. "It's both surprising and disappointing."
Estimates are about 1 million Californians have individual insurance plans that are being cancelled. Some will qualify for the expansion of Medi-Cal, while others will be eligible (based on their income) for a federal subsidy.
But officials say590,000 of those affected earn too much for a subsidy and thus will be left to purchase a new plan that, while likely more comprehensive in its coverage, could also cost more.
One idea floated on Thursday: a state subsidy for those left in the lurch, a program that legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown would have to create next year.