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Insurer extends cover ahead of decision

11th June 2012

US insurance giant UnitedHealth has said it will honor some of the provisions in President Barack Obama's embattled healthcare law regardless of whether the country's Supreme Court declares the legislation unconstitutional.


The company, the nation's largest healthcare insurer, said it would continue to offer privileges and services, including preventive screenings and elimination of lifetime limits on care, detailed in Obama's Affordable Care Act, at no cost, regardless how the US Supreme Court decides.

The move by the group, which boasts nearly 36 million customers nationwide, could prompt rival insurers to follow suit, and could offer some clarity to patients worried about how the ruling could affect their care.

Experts welcomed the decision, saying it showed how Obama's law had changed the landscape around healthcare debates, in spite of whether or not it is declared unconstitutional.

Physician and Rand Health director Arthur Kellermann hailed the decision by UnitedHealth and challenged fellow insurance providers to follow its lead.

Kellermann said the decision reflected the growing awareness of the need to address issues of cost, accessibility and quality in the provision of healthcare in the United States.

Under the plan, UnitedHealth will continue to offer annual physicals, colonoscopies, mammograms and screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure without the need for patients to make co-payments or pay other fees and costs.

It will also continue to provide cover to children on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26 years old, as well as ending lifetime upper limits on total healthcare costs.

According to UnitedHealth chief executive Stephen Hemsley, the protections were being extended voluntarily for the good of people's health, to promote broader access to quality care and to contribute to helping control rising healthcare costs.

The hiatus ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling has created considerable confusion among policy holders about their rights and benefits under existing plans.

However, Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Health Access, said that the voluntary move by UnitedHealth was still no substitute for the "bedrock security" of having such consumer protections enshrined in law.

UnitedHealth stopped short of guaranteeing coverage to children under the age of 19 regardless of pre-existing medical conditions, although it has said it is supportive of the federal requirement currently enshrined in Obama's law.

However, it said that an industry-wide consensus would have to be reached on such coverage, should the law be declared unconstitutional.

However, some states, including California, have already passed laws guaranteeing coverage for children and allowing young adults to remain on their parents' policies.



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