Missouri will allow health insurance companies to continue offering policies that otherwise would have been canceled because they don't comply with federal law, Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday.
Nationwide, more than 4 million people who buy their own insurance have received notices that their policies are ending because they don't meet minimum coverage requirements due to kick in next year under the federal health care law enacted by President Barack Obama.
It's unclear how many Missourians received those policy cancellations, because state law does not require insurers to notify the state insurance department when they discontinue particular coverage plans.
Obama has come under criticism for the policy cancellations because he repeatedly pledged while campaigning that — under his new health care law — Americans could keep their current health insurance policies if they like them.
Obama proposed last week to allow people to keep their current health insurance policies for another year, even though they would be deemed substandard under the federal coverage requirements.
Ultimately, Obama's proposal is subject to the decisions of insurers and state regulators.
Missouri insurance department director John Huff said his staff has not found any state law prohibiting the continuation of the individual and small-group policies that were being phased out. The department posted a notice to insurers Thursday providing procedural guidance about how they could still offer the policies.
"The department is encouraging health insurers to allow consumers to keep their plans if consumers want them," department spokesman Chris Cline said in an email. He added: "The decision to offer these plans rests with the insurance companies."
Nixon said in a written statement that his administration's announcement "seeks to address the recent uncertainty and disruptions policyholders have faced as a result of federal regulations." He added that it "is yet another example of how states are better-positioned to provide efficient and effective oversight of the insurance market."
In June, the department had posted a notice to insurers highlighting state laws that prevent insurance policies from being renewed more often than annually.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, had sent a letter Thursday to the department asking it to rescind that policy memo. Barnes said it had prevented people from speeding up the renewal of their soon-to-be discontinued policies and thus squeezing out another year of coverage before the federal law made the policies obsolete.
The policy notice posted Thursday by the department did not repeal the June memo. But Cline said the state law against early renewals doesn't prevent insurers from continuing plans into next year.
Barnes said the decision by Nixon's administration "is a step in the right direction."