HealthPartners, Blue Cross Halt Indiv. Plan Sales

The move coincides with new health reform laws that took effect Thursday, and the insurers say that they are waiting for state regulators to receive guidance regarding the federal rules.

HealthPartners and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota-two of Minnesota's largest health care insurers-have temporarily halted sales of new individual health insurance policies as their regulators await guidance regarding reforms to the industry.

“Health plans now have to file every new product with regulators and need approval before selling policies,” Amy von Walter, spokeswoman for Bloomington-based HealthPartners, said in a Friday phone interview. She said that new policy applications must be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and while the Commerce Department is “actively seeking guidance” from the federal level, the company has suspended sales of new individual policies until they receive approval.

A portion of the new health care reform laws went into effect on Thursday, including new rules requiring insurers to cover preventive care, children with pre-existing conditions, and dependents through the age of 26. Insurers must also eliminate lifetime caps on policies and annual maximums. The changes affect only individual plans-people with other types of coverage, such as employer-sponsored plans, will not be impacted.

According to von Walter, the majority of plans in Minnesota already offer coverage for preventive care, and the state previously had plans for covering dependents through age 25. “The impact in Minnesota is much less than other states,” she said.

Still, all of the changes “require clarity,” von Walter said. “I can't speculate on timing, but we're hopeful that [the suspended sales of individual plans] will be brief.”

Eagan-based Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota-which is reportedly the largest player in the state's individual plan market-also temporarily ceased sales of new individual health insurance policies. Late Friday, the company announced that it had resumed sales of individual plans.

“We designed the plans with input from consumers, because we know they are looking for good coverage at a very affordable price,” Kathy Dunmire, vice president for Blue Cross' products, said in a statement. “We are offering a new plan, as well as updates to plans that have already been on the market.”

Minnetonka-based Medica, however, did not stop selling individual plans despite the uncertainty stemming from new regulations. Spokesman Greg Bury said Friday that the company has submitted applications to the Commerce Department, and the company has already received approval. Medica only included changes to benefits-the rates have remained consistent-which could account for why the company received timely approval.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is the largest health insurer in the state based on its revenue-which exceeded $9 billion in its most recently completed fiscal year. Medica, Minnesota's second-largest health insurer reported revenue of $3.4 billion, and HealthPartners-the third-largest health insurer in the state-posted $3.39 billion in revenue.