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Can I still buy a mini-med health insurance plan?

Mini-med plans will disappear under health reform, but they haven't met their demise yet. These bare-bones health insurance plans, also known as limited benefit plans, provide narrow coverage and usually with a dollar-amount cap each year. The premiums are cheap, ranging from $20 to $190 per month for single coverage and $100 to $500 a month for family coverage, according to a 2010 report by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Employers typically offer these plans to low-wage, part-time workers, who bear the full cost of the premiums. Under the health care reform law, insurance companies can no longer limit annual coverage of essential benefits to less than $750,000. The dollar limit cannot be less than about $1.2 million for plan years starting on or after Sept. 23, 2011, and less than $2 million for plan years between Sept. 23, 2012 and Jan. 1, 2014. Starting in 2014, health insurance companies will be prohibited from establishing dollar caps on coverage.

But some mini-med plans continue to operate under temporary waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So far the department has issued more than 1,000 temporary waivers to organizations offering mini-med plans, in order for workers to keep their health benefits.

To receive a waiver, an employer or insurer must show that complying with the new regulations on annual coverage limits would significantly increase premiums or decrease access to coverage. Some insurance companies that have obtained waivers can sell new policies to individuals and employers.

The ability to provide waivers is a stopgap measure until state health insurance exchanges are operating in 2014. The exchanges will serve as marketplaces for individuals and small-businesses to purchase health insurance. A variety of plans will be offered through the exchanges, but they will all have to meet health reform regulations, including the prohibition on annual coverage limits. Those who meet certain low-income requirements will qualify for tax credits or premium subsidies to help them afford coverage through the exchanges.

For more, see impending death for mini-med health insurance plans.

Last updated: Mar. 21, 2011