Thursday, May 04, 2006


Daily papers fail to reveal the shabby story behind the health insurance rate regulation bill

Both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin ran stories today lamenting the failure of the House and Senate to agree on a bill that was originally written to remove the sunset provision of the rate oversight law and so continue the Insurance Commissioner's oversight.

Both papers failed to explain why the Senate could not agree with the mangled version of the bill that the House conjured up in an insurance industry-backed effort to defeat the state's regulation of its monopoly business.

It's been no secret. Today is May 4, but The Pacific Business News reported in an April 14 story, Bill could dilute oversight on health insurance rates, that
The proposed amendments to the law make it harder for the state to deny insurers' rate proposals and would likely result in higher premiums for businesses, said state Insurance Commissioner J.P. Schmidt.

"The amendments make rate regulation ineffective -- it makes it harder to rein in excessive prices," he said. "And with no competitive market, health insurance premiums may continue to rise for businesses and individuals."

The law that took effect in January 2003 gave the commissioner broad power to deny proposed rate hikes that he considers either excessive, discriminatory or detrimental to businesses and consumers.
The Insurance Commissioner warned clearly at that time that business and consumers would suffer with the House amendments.

Heck, even the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin and their employees will suffer increased costs if rates are allowed to rise unchecked. Maybe they should have followed the example of the Pacific Business News and reported the background to this story. It's been out there on the blogosphere and in PBN for some time.

Had the dailies done their job, they would have reported, as did Pacific Business News reporter Kristen Consillio, that
Kaiser Permanente Hawaii lobbyist Chris Pablo acknowledged that he drafted the amendments to the bill and circulated them among other health plans, like the Hawaii Medical Service Association, to enlist their support.
Who let the foxes into the henhouse? Rep. Bob Herkes introduced this industry-written amendment. This is the same Bob Herkes who harbors Mark Forman, Executive Administrator of HMSA Foundation as an "intern" in his office. The language was introduced as HD2 after hearing public testimony on the HD1, but of course, it was a pre-arranged trick. The new language was so biased toward the industry that it was mostly removed by the subsequent committee, but what remained of it essentially destroys the Commissioners ability to oversee rates.

Senator Ron Menor asked to reconvene the conference committee to save rate regulation, but the House would not agree.

At the start of the session the House also refused to hear its own version of the bill, leaving only the Senate version alive. Subsequently, Rep. Herkes was allowed to enlist industry help in destroying the original bill.

Both House and Senate versions were initially very simple, short bills that simply removed the sunset provisions of the law.

The papers might look into the reasons why House leadership seems to favor the insurance industry over consumers. Bob Herkes could not have done this alone.

If Big Island voters find their insurance premiums skyrocketing, perhaps they will express themselves at the ballot box by sending someone to the legislature who looks out for their interests instead of the interests of large corporations.

Update: in a story posted Wednesday to their website, Health insurance regulation bill dies, PBN correctly reports the reason the bill died:
The bill died because House and Senate lawmakers couldn't agree on amendments drafted by Kaiser Permanente Hawaii that would have made it harder for the state to deny insurers' rate proposals, according to the state insurance commissioner.
It's too bad the daily papers won't dig as deeply as PBN has done on this important story. Again, Big Island voters, it's your guy's fine work that made it possible for the health insurance companies to write their own legislation.


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