It was the best of bad options.
Wayne Goodwin, North Carolina’s insurance commissioner, defended his decision to allow North Carolina residents to keep their existing health insurance policies — even though doing so meant a premium rate increase of up to 24 percent. Goodwin explained his position Saturday during a visit to The Daily Journal office in downtown Rockingham.
The Hamlet native said not allowing insurance providers to follow President Barack Obama’s recommendation to extend individual policies under the Affordable Care Act would have left nearly 473,000 state residents without coverage. Any gap in coverage would have resulted in much higher premiums down the line, Goodwin said.
Goodwin said about that money consumers received cancellation notices because their policies did not meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act — one of the key reasons Obama pursued the legislation in the first place. The minimum standards are called the essential health benefits and have established a common floor for all consumers. The problem was when the cancellation notices were sent out there were still some issues concerning the healthcare.gov website.
“The federal website had such a bumpy beginning back on Oct. 1,” Goodwin said.
All those who had received the cancellation notices were to access the ACA website or substitute coverage elsewhere, Goodwin said. But with the website down, there needed to be another solution for North Carolina residents which is where the idea for the resurrection of cancelled policies.
“If you didn’t have coverage in place by this time in December, then you would have a gap in coverage, and if you had a gap in coverage you would be paying much higher rates and premiums,” Goodwin said. “The gap in coverage would have cost them more than the 16 to 24 percent. It was the best choice under the circumstances.”
The process of navigating the waters of this law hasn’t been a smooth one. It’s easy to see why, Goodwin said.
“This federal law is one of the most confusing and complex laws that we have seen on the federal level in our lifetime,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin has been charged with striking a balance when it comes to consumers and insurance carriers. Goodwin has a duty to make sure that consumers have access to an insurance market, insurance coverage, that they are not charged excessively, that consumers are not unfairly discriminated against and that they’re not paying for inadequate insurance.
On the other side, Goodwin is also required to ensure that carriers that are licensed to do business in North Carolina are reasonably regulated, that they and the public are protected from insolvency and that they are free from fraud.
“I see this as an extremely unique place in time,” Goodwin said. “We haven’t had this occur before.”
Goodwin was part of a contingent that recently met with Obama at the White House. Goodwin said Obama acknowledged he’d learned a lot about the health insurance industry in recent weeks.
“It was a very critical meeting,” Goodwin said of the 50-minute gathering. “We critiqued the federal law” and the meeting was “more substantive and lengthier than I anticipated.”
As critical as some have been about the law, the Affordable Care Act has or does fulfill many of Obama’s original intentions. Goodwin agreed that the ACA does, in fact: prevent insurers from denying coverage for a pre-existing condition; establish a minimum standard for health insurance policies; require individuals to purchase a policy, pay a penalty or seek a financial hardship or religious exemption; establish a health insurance exchange in each state; include federal subsidies for low-income individuals; and, in most states, expands Medicaid for low-income individuals.
This is the first of a two-part series after an interview with N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. Part two will appear in the Dec. 26 edition of The Daily Journal.