Implementation Update: UnitedHealth, WellPoint Speed Coverage For Young Adults, HHS Establishes New Office

The new health care law requires insurers to provide dependent coverage for children up to age 26 for all individual and group policies by September 23, but two of the nation’s largest insurers have agreed to implement the changes earlier. WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group will voluntarily extend coverage to these younger individuals by June 1 and the Wall Street Journal is interpreting the move as an industry effort to rehabilitate its tarnished image:

While not far-reaching, the policy change is a sign that the country’s largest insurer by revenue is moving quickly to comply with the new law’s provisions. The industry got off on the wrong foot with critics right after the law’s passage with a narrow interpretation of the law’s coverage provision for sick children. Moves such as the one UnitedHealth made are likely to build back good will among regulators, Democrats and critics.

This is probably true, although agreeing to a change two months before it’s implemented probably won’t convince anyone of the benevolence of insurers. After all, insurers have been reluctant to allow younger people to stay on their parents policy because they would rather enroll those same individuals in more profitable individual policies. The coming of exchanges, however, will significantly shrink the individual market and possibly diminish insurers’ ability to profit from that market. Adding young and healthy people to their parents’ policy early is a good alternative that keeps young people insured without creating a coverage gap.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services — which has been moving quickly to implement reform — has announced that it will establish the “Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight charged with developing and implementing major reforms affecting the private insurance market.” “The new office will design and administer the temporary high-risk pools, establish new rules on medical loss ratios and oversee the state-based health insurance exchanges,” Inside Health Policy reports. According to the federal registry, the office will consist of the following components: Office of the Director (AUA), Office of Oversight (AUB), Office of Insurance Programs (AUC), Office of Consumer Support (AUD) and Office of Health Insurance.

There is also some speculation that the new office will be run by Jon Kingsdale, “who recently resigned as executive director of Massachusetts’ health insurance exchange.”