Three big health insurance companies say they will continue to offer some of the consumer protections guaranteed by federal health care reform -- even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down aspects of the reform law as unconstitutional.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc. and Aetna Inc. announced June 11 that regardless of the Supreme Court's decision, they will continue to let parents keep kids up to age 26 on their health plans and will fully cover preventive care, such as immunizations and certain screenings, without charging co-payments.

UnitedHealth and Humana also said they would not set lifetime policy limits on benefits or retroactively cancel individual insurance policies except in cases of fraud. They also pledged to provide a simple appeals process for consumers, as required by the law.

Aetna said it would also continue outside review of appeals for coverage denials.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of this month on the constitutionality of aspects of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Act, the massive reform law spearheaded by President Barack Obama and passed by Congress in March 2010.

Insurer: Provisions 'make sense'

In a press statement, Stephen J. Hemsley, UnitedHealth president and CEO, explained his company's decision: "The protections we are voluntarily extending are good for people's health, promote broader access to quality care and contribute to helping control rising health care costs. These provisions make sense for the people we serve, and it is important to ensure they know these provisions will continue. These provisions are compatible with our mission and continue our operating practices."

UnitedHealth was the first health insurer to announce it would continue the consumer protections June 11. Humana and Aetna followed with announcements later that day.

But no insurer has agreed to provide coverage for people who already have health conditions. Under the health care reform law, health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for children up to age 19 because of pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, according to the law, insurers won't be allowed to deny coverage to anyone because of a health condition.

"UnitedHealthcare recognizes the value of coverage for children up to age 19 with pre-existing conditions," the company said in its announcement. "One company acting alone cannot take that step, so UnitedHealthcare is committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage."

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, said UnitedHealth's move was "an encouraging first step" but didn't tackle all the critical elements to protect consumers.

"Key consumer protections like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions and ensuring that people aren't charged differently because of their gender or health condition are essential to providing quality, affordable health care," DeAnn Friedholm, Consumer Union's director of health reform, said in a press statement. "But the fact is that these important protections cannot be tackled by one insurer. This is why we need the level playing field that the health care law provides - to ensure that these protections are kept in place for everyone."