The S.C. Department of Insurance wants to let South Carolinians know as soon as possible whether or not they can keep their existing individual and small group health plans.

It’s giving insurance companies in the state until Dec. 2 to decide if they will extend this coverage, according new guidance released Tuesday by the insurance department.

The new bulletin is intended to help clarify the Affordable Care Act’s latest policy change.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced that insurance companies can continue offering existing plans to some of their customers next year, even if those plans don’t meet all the requirements of the new federal law.

The announcement created immediate confusion within the industry, mainly because insurance companies had been preparing for months to cancel those policies and replace them with more robust — often more expensive — alternatives to comply with the law.

“The bulletin gives our companies guidance on how to go about making filings and helping our customers with their coverage for next year,” said S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer.

The state government estimates about 150,000 residents faced canceled coverage next year.

Some of those plans may not be renewed because the Obama administration has left that decision up to insurance companies.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina said after the federal announcement last week that it will continue offering those plans which would have otherwise been canceled.

“We are pleased that the state’s department of insurance has issued its guidance today and applaud its responsiveness to the citizens of South Carolina,” said BlueCross BlueShield spokeswoman Patti Embry-Tautenhan in a prepared statement on Tuesday. “While we are poised to move forward, we are also obligated to include in our decision-making any additional guidance from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.”

A full copy of the S.C. Department of Insurance bulletin is available on the department’s website.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.