Officials at UnitedHealthcare said they did not have statistics on what, if any, impact the decision could have on premiums.
The Obama administration has estimated that on average the law’s early consumer mandates would increase premiums by less than 2 percent. However, that figure has probably varied depending on whether a particular plan already included the new requirements — often the case with plans bought by large employers — or whether insurers had to incorporate the new rules — often the case with plans sold to individuals and small businesses.
Further complicating the picture, other forces, such as a drop in use of health care, have exerted a countervailing downward pressure on premiums in recent years.
The “Patients Bill of Rights” also includes several mandates that UnitedHealthcare did not pledge to continue complying with in the event the Supreme Court invalidates the law. These include the elimination of annual limits on insurance payouts, which are being phased out under the law, and that statute’s ban on denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions.
The latter would be impossible to do unilaterally, said UnitedHealthcare officials, because the company’s risk pool could be quickly skewed toward sick children. But in a statement they said the company is “committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage.”
Ronald Pollack, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Families USA and a supporter of the law, welcomed UnitedHealthcare’s announcement.
“It would make a huge difference for a great number of people who would otherwise be left out in the cold in terms of getting coverage,” he said. “And hopefully, given UnitedHealthcare’s market share, this would have tremendous influence on other companies.”
But even if the entire insurance industry followed suit, Pollack said, it would hardly make up for the loss of other provisions in the law that are set to take effect in 2014 — including the extension of Medicaid to cover a larger share of the poor, subsidies to help low-income Americans buy insurance and bans against insurers discriminating against adults with preexisting conditions.
This would be a “one-third of a loaf” substitute, Pollack said. “A very good step, but in no way altering the necessity of implementing the much larger protections included in the new law.”