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California parents urged to enroll children for health insurance

Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who wrote a new state law requiring insurers to cover children under all their policies, says people should take advantage of an open enrollment period that ends March 1.

January 27, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

State officials on Tuesday urged parents to sign up their children for health insurance during an ongoing enrollment period established by a new state law that requires private insurers to offer children's coverage under all their policies.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, allows parents to apply for the coverage during an open enrollment period that runs until March 1, or in the month after their children's birthdays.

"The law is only effective if parents take advantage of it — the time is now," said the law's author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles.)

Under the law, state health insurers cannot deny coverage to children with preexisting medical conditions or charge more than twice the standard rate, but families that apply outside the enrollment periods are not protected against higher rates, said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "We're encouraging parents not to wait."

Jones and Feuer spoke at a news conference at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Feuer said it was imperative for the state to expand on the federal healthcare reform to protect children with preexisting conditions.

The event was the first in a series of initiatives by the state Department of Insurance to inform parents of the chance to get their children insured. Activities include a statewide commercial campaign and outreach efforts to community, religious and advocacy groups to get the word out, Jones said.

The law also brought back insurers who ceased offering child-only coverage after last year's federal healthcare law went into effect. "It's a great example of a law having its intended effect and protecting the kids who need it the most," Feuer said.

Last fall, some of California's largest health insurance companies abruptly stopped the sale of individual policies for children to circumvent the federal law that forced them to accept anyone younger than 19, regardless of their medical conditions.

Insurers at the time argued that the healthcare reform could prompt parents to buy policies only after their children became sick. They said that if competitors left the market, the influx of children could cause the remaining companies to bear the financial burden.

This brought sharp criticism from health activists and the Obama administration, who accused the insurers of abandoning children and families.

The new state law prohibits companies that refuse to offer child-only coverage from selling new policies in the broader individual insurance market for five years — cutting into profits.

In response to the law, the companies — including Aetna Inc., Anthem Blue Cross, Cigna Corp., Health Net Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. — resumed sales of child-only coverage Jan. 1 for an estimated 80,000 children who are not insured through family policies or their parents' employers.

Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.

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