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The Trouble With Short-Term Health Plans in the Age of Obamacare

Policies pitched as Obamacare alternatives have lots of gaps

If you’re shopping for health insurance, you may get a pitch for something called a short-term medical plan. These policies have been around forever and are aimed at recent college grads, people between jobs, and new employees waiting for group benefits to kick in. They’re marketed by major insurers including UnitedHealthcare Services, Humana, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield carriers, and many smaller companies.

Short-term plans have become more visible as some insurers and brokers take advantage of the hoopla surrounding the Affordable Care Act to market them as alternatives to the policies available on the state and federal exchanges. Although the plans look a little like those approved under Obamacare, they provide less coverage and don’t have to adhere to the same rules. The companies are allowed to turn away patients who are sick and refuse to cover preexisting conditions. They don’t have to pay for preventative care and aren’t required to renew a policy if a patient needs a lot of medical care. “If you get sick, it’s not going to take care of you,” says Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health researcher.