One of the nation's largest insurers said early Monday it would continue to follow some of the rules in the federal health law that are already in effect, including keeping young adults up to age 26 on their parents' plans and ending lifetime dollar limits, no matter what the the Supreme Court decides.
UnitedHealthcare, which covers about 26 million people in plans that could be affected by such regulations, is the first insurer to commit publicly to doing this. The Supreme Court justices are expected to rule sometime this month and could uphold the law, remove parts of it or reject the entire legislation.
The insurer said no matter what, it would continue to offer policyholders no-copayment preventive services, such as cancer screenings, and third-party appeals for cases where treatments are denied. United also said it would not cancel policies retroactively, except in cases of fraud.
Those rules score high on public opinion polls, even among people who say they don't like the overall law. United stopped short of saying it would continue to accept all children, no matter if they had a pre-existing medical condition. The federal law says insurers cannot reject children up to age 19 simply because they have a medical condition.
While the company "recognizes the value of coverage for children," United said "one company acting alone cannot take that step," adding that it is "committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage."
No mention was made of other rules in the health law that some insurers find onerous, including a requirement that they issue rebates to customers if they fail to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care.
What happens if all or part of the law is rejected is the subject of near-constant speculation in Washington and beyond. Many experts believe that even if the court rejects the law, some things across the industry may not change immediately. For young adults on their parents' policies, for example, insurers would likely need to continue coverage until the policy's contract term expired.
United did not disclose what retaining the provisions would cost. "These provisions make sense for the people we serve and it is important to ensure they know these provisions will continue," said Stephen J. Hemsley, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group said in a statement. "These provisions are compatible with our mission and continue our operating practices."
Tim Jost, a consumer advocate and a law professor at Washington and Lee University, said he hoped other insurers follow suit. One thing the United statement demonstrates, he said, is that "the provisions are not bankrupting the industry."
But while the rules United mentioned tend to be popular in opinion polls, Jost said, other provisions in the law will do more to cover the uninsured. Those include preventing insurers from rejecting adults with pre-existing medical conditions and the government tax credits aimed at helping low and moderate income Americans purchase coverage, both of which begin in 2014.
"I'm glad to hear United is doing this and I hope other insurers follow suit," said Jost. "But that doesn't solve the problem of the uninsured, which is why we need the rest of the health bill."