Let Iowans who lose health insurance buy Hawk-I coverage for their kids, senator suggests

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Medica, a Minnesota based health insurer, released a statement suggesting it was close to following two larger carriers in deciding not to sell such policies in Iowa for 2018, due to instability in the market.
Wochit

Iowa families that lose their health coverage because of insurance-market turmoil should be allowed to buy public coverage for their children, a state senator proposed Monday.

Sen. Janet Petersen offered her proposal as a lifeline to some of the 72,000 Iowans at risk of losing health-insurance coverage that they purchase for themselves. Just one insurance carrier has said it intends to keep selling such policies in Iowa next year, and it still could pull out. About 11,000 of those 72,000 consumers are children, Petersen said at a Statehouse press conference Monday morning.

“They need answers and solutions. The clock is ticking,” the Des Moines Democrat told reporters.

Petersen wants Iowa to let such parents buy into the Hawk-I program, a government program that already provides subsidized, private health insurance to about 60,000 Iowa children from moderate-income families. To qualify for the program under current rules, families must have annual incomes of less than 300 percent of the official poverty rate. That translates to about $61,000 for a family of three. Petersen’s proposal would allow families with higher incomes to purchase unsubsidized policies under Hawk-I. The proposal would cost the government nothing, because the families would pay the full cost of the premiums, she said.

The Iowa Department of Human Services said Monday that the current cost of Hawk-I is $153 per child per month.

Petersen is the top-ranked Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees insurance, and she used to be on the board of Hawk-I.

Des Moines pediatrician Amy Shriver also spoke at Monday’s press conference. She stressed the importance of having insurance coverage for children, so they can obtain regular care to prevent chronic problems. “Children can become expensive adults if their health needs aren’t properly addressed,” Shriver said.

Petersen said Gov. Kim Reynolds should not need permission from the Legislature to let Iowa families buy into the Hawk-I program, which is an outgrowth of the Medicaid health-care program for the poor. The senator said her proposal probably would need approval from federal Medicaid administrators, however.

Petersen acknowledged her proposal would only help insure children, not adults. But she said it would be a step toward reassuring parents that they could at least buy coverage for their kids.

The Iowa Insurance Division is already seeking federal approval of a “stopgap” plan to ease financial risks to health insurers and encourage them to stay in or re-enter Iowa’s individual insurance market.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, said Monday that Reynolds will continue to push for that plan to be approved.

“Iowa’s Obamacare marketplace is collapsing, and 72,000 Iowans — including 11,000 children — won’t have any health insurance options in 2018 if we don’t do something,” Smith wrote in an email to The Register. “Gov. Reynolds is focused on working with the Trump administration to get Iowa’s stopgap measure approved so every one of those 72,000 Iowans — both adults and children — will have a health insurance option next year.”

Smith did not directly respond to a question about whether Reynolds had an opinion on Petersen’s proposal to help families if the Insurance Divisions’ stopgap plan fails to keep private insurers in the market.

A different Democratic proposal would let Iowans who lose their private coverage buy into the state’s Medicaid program, which like Hawk-I is jointly financed by the state and federal governments.

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