Obama administration finalizes popular pieces of healthcare law

In addition to the provisions on pre-existing conditions, the final rules codify new regulations on how insurers set their premiums. The law allows them to vary premiums based only on a certain set of criteria, such as age and smoking status, while outlawing variations based on gender and health status.

HHS rejected insurers' calls for more flexibility in setting rates based on age. The statute says plans can only charge older patients three times more than younger ones, which is more restrictive than what some states allow. 

Because those limits increase costs for younger customers, insurers had asked HHS to gradually phase in the 3-to-1 limits. But the department said Friday it did not have the legal authority to bend the rules.

The final regulations also require insurers to pool together everyone who buys insurance on their own in each state, to spread risks and costs in a way that's more similar to the market for businesses. 

And the rules ensure that young adults in every state will have access to a plan that's geared toward catastrophic care — offering lower premiums and less generous coverage for people who don't use much healthcare outside of an emergency.