Monday, April 21, 2014 · 8:29 a.m.

People who want to keep their current BCBST plans can do so for another year, even if they don't meet the requirements of the new federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act. 

"Many of our customers will now have the option to keep their health insurance," BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee President and CEO Bill Gracey said in a prepared statement. "These plans have provided high-quality coverage that has met our customers’ needs. We expect many of them will welcome the opportunity to renew their coverage for another year."

President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, will provide access to health care coverage to 30 million people.

It includes provisions such as preventing insurers from denying benefits based on pre-existing conditions. It allows people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26. It requires coverage to include a free annual wellness visit, among an array of other benefits. 

The Affordable Care Act requires nearly everyone to have some sort of health care insurance or pay a penalty, and the coverage must meet the minimum requirements under the law. 

The BCBST extension—which leaders got from federal and state officials—is for people who have health insurance plans with renewal dates between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, according to a news release.

This impacts about 50,000 people who are currently covered under BCBST policies, and those members must keep the exact level of benefits and renewal dates in order to qualify for the extensions.

BCBST leaders aren't offering small group customers—which are businesses with 50 or fewer employees—an extension option because the company had already provided an option for early renewal in 2013, so those members could keep their existing plans through most of 2014, according to a news release. 

More reading, information 

Click here to read one Chattanoogan's experience with Obamacare.

Click here for tips and takeaways about the Affordable Care Act.

Click here for more information or to apply online for coverage. 

Click here for more information from BCBST, which has a site to help educate consumers. 

Click here for more information from American Exchange.  

Call 1-888-995-1674 for help from an American Exchange broker. 

The members impacted by this extension now have the options to renew their current plan for another year or pick a plan that is compliant with Affordable Care Act mandates. 

It's possible that consumers can get more benefits and financial assistance if they go through the online marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. 

Leaders with American Exchange—a local company whose employees help residents nationwide connect with health insurance through the marketplaces—said recently that it's important for consumers to evaluate all their options. 

Tax credits are only available for plans available because of the Affordable Care Act, so if consumers keep BCBST plans, they lose the possibility of having that financial assistance. 

The individual plans that may be extended are considered as nongrandfathered health plans under the act and were required to be discontinued under the law in 2014.

After Oct. 1, all BCBST plans must be compliant with Affordable Care Act regulations. So customers who opt for this extension must still have a plan that is compliant with the Affordable Care Act by 2015. 

The extension doesn't apply to consumers with coverage through any of the Cover Tennessee programs, which are operated by the state of Tennessee, with BCBST serving as a contracted administrator. Click here for more information on the future of those programs. 

Officials encouraged current participants in Cover Tennessee programs to shop for new coverage on the marketplace and said participants may be eligible for financial assistance.

The deadline for enrolling in coverage to be effective Jan. 1 is Dec. 23.

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