Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal with Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle and Nichelle Mullins, CEO of Charter Oak Health Center (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — The Trump administration issued a final rule on short-term health insurance plans Wednesday and it’s unclear if the state will step in to beef them up or ban them altogether.

The new rule gives states the option of increasing protections or banning the plans, which are less expensive because they don’t cover pre-existing conditions, outright. The Trump administration says these plan could help millions of people who don’t want or need comprehensive insurance.

“This final rule opens the door to new, more affordable coverage options for millions of middle-class Americans who have been priced out of ACA plans,” Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a press release.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal who was touring the state Thursday panning the plans with visits to federally qualified health centers, like the Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford said it’s not clear yet what action the Connecticut Insurance Department will take.

A spokeswoman for the Insurance Department said Thursday that “we are currently reviewing it.”

Blumenthal said he’s not here to offer advice to the Insurance Department on what they can take, but the Connecticut Insurance Department should require lower deductibles, no annual limits, coverage of prescription drugs, mental health care, and all pre-existing conditions.

The short term plans don’t currently have to cover any pre-existing conditions, mental health care, or prescription drugs and they don’t have to spend 80 percent of the premiums on medical care, like they do under the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s like a fig leaf,” Blumenthal said. “You feel you’re covered. You feel good about it. You say you have it until you actually need it under these junk plans.” 

Susan Kelley, director of advocacy and policy for NAMI Connecticut said the short-term plans fly in the face of “mental health parity” because mental health and substance abuse are not covered the same as physical health.

“This would be a step back limiting access for children and families,” Kelley said.

Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle said the state can limit the duration of the plans.

Under the current rule short-term insurance cannot last for more than three months, but under the new rule the limit would be 364 days and it can be extended to a maximum of 36 months.

“If people do buy these plans in the state it is incumbent upon state regulators to make sure each person that buys such a plan knows the limitations so there’s no nasty surprises,” Doolittle said.

He said he doesn’t want anyone to “get whacked” and realize their “security blanket is actually a tiny thong bikini.”

He said if people do buy the plans in the state they need to understand the limitations of the plans.

“These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a press release Wednesday. 

In conjunction with the Association Health Plans that the Trump administration approved six weeks ago, proponents of the Affordable Care Act say this is just one step further in their attempt to “sabotage it.”

Blumenthal said in order to help bring down the cost of health insurance coverage the pool needs to be big enough.

The Association Health Plans, these new short term plans, and the nullification of the individual mandate will likely remove healthier people from the larger health insurance pool, which Blumenthal and advocates of the ACA see as the real problem.

“We need to raise awareness and sound the alarm. These plans are a threat to the Affordable Care Act,” Blumenthal said.