Recently enacted California Senate Bill 1034 prohibits California insurers and HMOs from imposing any waiting or affiliation period on group health coverage, other than that imposed by the employer sponsoring the group health plan. As described in earlier posts, SB 1034 negates the effect of a prior law, AB 1083, that for 2014 imposed a maximum 60-day eligibility waiting period on California group health insurance policies and HMO contracts. As a result, many California employers with insured group health plans have been foreclosed from using the maximum 90-day eligibility waiting period permitted under the ACA, which went into effect for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2014.
The repeal under SB 1034 does not go into effect until January 1, 2015. Employers with calendar year plans/policies that currently are subject to the 60-day limit can make a clean transition to the 90-day maximum waiting period effective January 1, 2015. However, many employers who chose “early renewal” in 2013 in order to lock in pre-ACA rates for an additional 11 months will start new policy/plan years on December 1, 2014, raising the question of whether carriers will require compliance with the 60-day waiting period limit (a) for the balance of the 2014 calendar year; (b) for the entire 2014-2015 policy year; or (c) not at all, once the 2013-2014 policy year has come to a close. Early renewal was most prevalent among small group plans, although it also was available to some large employers who were grandfathered into small group coverage.
In the wake of the repeal measure, the major players in the California group coverage market are taking a cautious approach with regard to transition guidance. Some carriers stopped enforcing the 60-day waiting period earlier this year when repeal of AB 1083 appeared certain, and logically these carriers would not hold employers to compliance through 2014. Other carriers that followed the letter of California law in this regard will hopefully announce soon whether they will require compliance through December 31, 2014 or the end of 2014-2015 policy years. We will post updates as further word from carriers becomes available.