Michael Haynes used to have an Obamacare plan for himself and his family, but it was never the right fit. The premiums kept rising, and this year, he decided the policy was not worth the $1,830 monthly price.
So the retired small business owner from Yellville, Arkansas, opted to buy a short-term health plan, which covers far less but costs around $280 a month. He had to pay $150 for his young twin daughters to see the doctor when they had colds, but that wasn’t a problem because the premiums were so much lower.
“When you’re saving $18,000 a year, it pays for a lot of out-of-pocket expenses,” said Haynes, 54, who says he has had an “excellent experience” with his short-term plan, but still would like the security and low co-pays that come with a more robust policy.
Soon it will be easier for Haynes and other Americans to buy short-term policies. The Trump administration unveiled a final rule last week that will allow insurers to sell these policies for just under a year, rather than the current 90-day limit. They can also be renewed for up to 36 months.
Administration officials say these plans are designed for people who are being priced out of the individual market, like Haynes. But patient advocates and health policy experts argue short-term policies are “junk plans” that offer very skimpy coverage and will ultimately lead to much higher costs for consumer who need care.
Readers told CNN about their experiences with short-term health plans. The reactions were decidedly mixed. Overall, the plans seemed to work for those who were relatively healthy, but were problematic for those who used more health care services.
Those who saved money on premiums, though, had to give some of it back at tax time. Americans who have short-term plans are not considered insured and are still subject to the individual mandate penalty. (That won’t be an issue starting in 2019 because Congress eliminated the penalty for not having coverage.)
Dan Mulherin is not so enamored of short-term plans. He bought one for his son, Oliver, then 20, last fall after his son lost his Obamacare coverage due to a missed premium payment. The policy, which cost $500 for three months, didn’t cover Oliver’s doctor’s bill and paid only $200 for his prescription drug, forcing Mulherin to shell out an additional $300 to buy the rest.
“The insurance from the short-term policy was basically worthless,” said Mulherin, 67, a Long Beach, California, resident whose son once again has an Obamacare plan.
Americans who’ve had short-term plans say it’s very important that people read the fine print of their policy and understand what’s covered and what isn’t. The Trump administration is requiring that plans include notices saying their benefits may be more limited than Obamacare’s.
Margot Anthony got pregnant with her second child last year while on a short-term plan. Unlike Obamacare, the plan didn’t provide maternity benefits. The family had purchased the coverage after Anthony’s husband left his job, which had provided them with health insurance. The short-term plan was about $800 less a month than an Obamacare policy.
The Littleton, Colorado, resident turned to a lower-cost midwife, which she said she was hesitant to do at first, but it worked out great. Also, the plan picked up most of the cost of treatment when her then 3-year-old son fell and broke his arm. Still, she noted she did have to fill out a lot of paperwork showing that the boy hadn’t engaged in any risky behavior, including playing in organized sports.
Anthony is back on an employer plan now that her husband has a new job. She thought her short-term policy was worth it, but she’s glad she now has coverage to take her sons to the doctor for physicals.
“It’s much better to have a full-coverage policy,” said Anthony, 29. “If you want to go get your kids checked out, you can’t do that on a short-term policy. But there are those who can’t pay hundreds of dollars for that every month.”