Gazette opinion: Insurers should be accountable for premium prices

2013-04-15T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Insurers should be accountable for premium prices The Billings Gazette
April 15, 2013 12:00 am

This week, Montana state senators have the opportunity to provide their constituents with the same consumer price protection on health insurance that they already have on other types of insurance.

House Bill 87, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, proposes to hold health insurance companies accountable for rate increases. Forty-seven other states authorize their insurance commissioner to review proposed premium increases to determine whether the price hike is reasonable or justified.

But not in Montana. Here, the insurance commissioner elected by the people doesn’t even have authority to look at health insurance rates.

HB87 would remedy that gap. The bill, as passed by the House, would require that health insurance rates and information supporting those rates to be filed with the Montana insurance commissioner at least 60 days before an increase takes effect. An actuarial analysis would be performed on proposed rates. The law would apply to policies in the individual and small group market issued Jan. 1, 2014, and thereafter.

Insurance commissioner Monica Lindeen already is responsible for reviewing rate increases for auto, home and other types of insurance. It doesn’t make sense to exempt health insurance rates, which are the biggest insurance cost for many Montana families, as well as self-employed people and small business owners.

Health cost worries

Ask anybody who buys health insurance: The market doesn’t work. Prices go up, often by double-digits, without explanation, and there’s nothing customers can do about that.

Rate review won’t stop all rate increases. But other states have seen the value in requiring insurers to justify their rates to ensure that increases are not excessive.

Lindeen points to a case last year in which an insurer planned double-digit increases in its premiums. In South Dakota where the insurance commissioner is charged with reviewing rates, the increase was negotiated down to 6.5 percent. However, the company’s Montana customers got hit with increases of around 18.5 percent.

No opponents at hearing

HB87 made sense to the 58 House members who sent it to the Senate on Feb. 27. The Senate Public Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing April 3 and tabled the bill the next day. On Friday 25 senators agreed to blast the bill out of committee. Thanks to senators including Taylor Brown, Robyn Driscoll, Larry Jent, Alan Olson, Jim Peterson, Mike Phillips, Sharon Stewart-Peregoy and Kendall Van Dyk, HB87 will be debated in the Senate this week.

We ask all senators to support this bill to provide the same public scrutiny of health insurance prices as other types of insurance receive.

“It is a good consumer-protection bill,” Joy Bruck, president of AARP Montana, told the committee on April 3.

We ask all senators to consider the impact that ever-increasing insurance rates have on their constituents. Send HB87 to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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