‘Child-only’ policies returning to Georgia in 2013

A new “open enrollment’’ period is coming to Georgia. But this one is for kids only.

Starting in January, Georgia parents will once again have the opportunity to sign their children up for a “child-only’’ health insurance policy.

These policies are bought by parents who have an employer policy that doesn’t offer dependent coverage. And they’re bought by parents who can’t purchase coverage for themselves due to cost or a health condition, and who want to cover their children.

One unintended consequence of the 2010 Affordable Care Act was that sales of these child-only insurance policies were halted in Georgia and other states.

State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens this week signed an order finalizing rules requiring all Georgia health insurers selling individual policies to offer child-only coverage. The 2012 Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to address this issue.

“To guarantee that children get the quality medical care they need, I encourage parents and guardians with uninsured children to consider purchasing this coverage,’’ Hudgens said in a statement.

The health reform law prohibited insurers from denying or limiting coverage for children under age 19. In response, insurers in Georgia and other states stopped offering individual health insurance to children.

A recent Commonwealth Fund analysis found that 22 states and the District of Columbia passed new legislation or issued a new regulation to help restore these policies to the markets.

Open enrollment will occur in January, and child-only coverage will begin in March. Insurers are required to offer coverage during this period even if a child has a pre-existing condition.

Parents who have had a “qualifying event” such as a birth, an adoption or loss of coverage due to job change can enroll their children during the year. Guardians such as grandparents who receive Medicare can also purchase these policies for a child in their care.

Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future said consumer advocacy groups had been concerned these policies were no longer available, and pushed for legislation in January.

“Insurance carriers came to the table,’’ she said. “It was a big team effort.’’

But the Georgia legislation didn’t address affordability. Insurers won’t have limits on how much they charge parents of children with pre-existing conditions.

Health insurance exchanges, coming in 2014 under health reform, should do a much better job of containing prices, Zeldin said. Those exchanges will ban medical underwriting.

The child-only law will “sunset,” or automatically expire, at the end of 2013.

Graham Thompson of the Georgia Association of Health Plans, an industry group, said Friday that the industry is unsure about the demand for child-only policies. “We’ll all be watching,’’ he said.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Alex Atwood (R-Brunswick). “This was a common-sense, free-market initiative that received overwhelming bipartisan support,” Atwood said in a statement.

Hudgens said he recommends parents and guardians contact their local health insurance agent directly to inquire about enrollment during January.

Anyone with questions about the open enrollment process may also contact the insurance department toll-free at 800-656-2298.