UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and other health insurers Tuesday enjoyed praise after saying they would continue some provisions of federal health care reform even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the law this month.

But the companies stopped short of embracing hallmark benefits of reform, including a ban on denying health coverage to people with so-called pre-existing health conditions, like cancer or heart disease. The insurers also did not say whether they would still agree to forgo annual spending limits on patients, which takes effect in 2014.

It started with an announcement Monday by UnitedHealth Group — parent company of UnitedHealthcare — and was followed by similar pledges by Humana and Aetna.

Minnetonka, Minn.,-based UnitedHealthcare said it recognizes the value of coverage for children regardless of pre-existing conditions. The insurer, however, said, "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."

UnitedHealthcare said it would voluntarily continue coverage of preventive services — including screenings for high-blood pressure and diabetes, and allowing parents to keep children on policies until age 26. It also said it would not limit the amount of money it spends on a patient during his or her lifetime.

"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," said Stephen J. Hemsley, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group. "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."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman applauded UnitedHealthcare.

"This decision is not only good news for those covered by UnitedHealthcare, but shows that a major insurance carrier sees the benefit of these reforms both to patients and to the industry," Malloy said. "Clearly, this is a major endorsement of key provisions of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and I hope that other insurers quickly come to the same conclusion."

Aetna spokesman Matthew Wiggin said, "We intend to keep provisions such as coverage for dependents to age 26, 100 percent coverage for certain preventive care, and access to appeals through independent third parties in our benefit plans, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules."

Wiggin added that Aetna won't necessarily keep all aspects of the law in its health plans voluntarily, and that the Hartford-based insurer will provide more details after the Supreme Court decision expected some time this month.

The expansive law, passed by Congress in March 2010, includes an individual mandate that would require every American to have health insurance — forcing many to buy it — by 2014, or face paying a penalty. A legal challenge brought by 26 states to the U.S. Supreme Court says the mandate is an overreach of federal authority, and the entire law should be tossed as a result.

Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. spokesman Jon Sandberg said, "Cigna believes in respecting the court's process. We remain focused on our global customer programs, and are prepared to proceed as appropriate on behalf of our customers when the court deliberations reach their conclusion."

Humana, based in Louisville, Ky., said it is "committed to keeping in place important patient protections contained in the law, including health care reform's restrictions on lifetime limits, rescission standards, appeals and external review processes, coverage for dependents on family plans to age 26, and preventive services with no cost sharing."

What's not clear is the fate of other aspects of reform, including a ban on annual spending limits, a ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and a requirement that health insurers spend a minimum amount of revenue on patients' medical bills. Some states have laws that offer consumer benefits.

Since 2010, federal reform has prohibited insurers from denying coverage to a child up to age 19 because of a pre-existing condition. In 2014, insurers would be prohibited from refusing to sell coverage or to renew policies because of an individual's pre-existing conditions.

Health insurers are also required by reform to spend a minimum amount of premium revenue on medical expenses for their patients — 80 cents per premium dollar in individual and small-group plans; and 85 cents per dollar in large-group plans. For the first time this year, rebates totaling $14.6 million are due in August to 212,106 Connecticut residents as a direct result of the so-called "medical-loss ratio" requirements.