Two of Minnesota's biggest health plans said Thursday they have temporarily suspended sales of individual health insurance policies because of uncertainty related to the new federal health reform law.

The moves by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and HealthPartners came on the same day some of the federal government's most-heralded consumer protections came into effect.

A third health plan, Medica, is continuing to sell individual policies.

The insurers that have suspended individual sales say they are awaiting guidance on new rules, including those around coverage of kids with pre-existing conditions. They say they expect to resume sales soon, as new guidelines become clear.

Insurers are required to submit new policy applications to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which scrutinizes rates and coverage.

"The policies have not yet been approved by our regulators, who are awaiting additional guidance on federal guidelines," said Amy Von Walter, a spokeswoman for Bloomington-based HealthPartners.

Pam Lux, a spokeswoman for Eagan-based Blue Cross, said she expects the suspension of individual sales to be brief but could not say if it would be days or weeks.

About 5 percent of Minnesotans get health insurance in the individual market. Those who already have individual policies, as well as those with group plans and large, self-insured companies are not affected.

Blue Cross underwrites the lion's share of individual policies in the state, though it won't divulge numbers. HealthPartners and Medica each have about 25,000 members in the individual market.

Minnetonka-based Medica said it continues to offer its individual products as usual and that its applications have been approved by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

"It may be that we didn't make any rate adjustments," spokesman Larry Bussey said. "We haven't had any roadblocks."

The changes that came into effect Thursday include requiring insurers to cover kids with pre-existing conditions, requiring them to cover preventive care, removing lifetime limits on policies and extending dependent coverage to age 26.

Insurance officials said the industry has been scrambling to figure out the new federal regulations for months.

"I'm not surprised that everybody is being extra cautious," said Eileen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. "This is a substantial change."

Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434