State Sen. Chip Shields (D-North/Northeast Portland) is raising the alarm that his bills to bring greater oversight to health-insurance rate increases are in danger of dying in the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

"They're on life support," Shields says.

Sheilds points his finger at lobbyists for the insurance industry, especially Providence Health. Shields says insurers are vehemently opposing the bills in an effort that runs against consumer interests.

"They are trying to throw their small-business customers under the bus," Shields says.

Shields became alarmed in recent years when the state Insurance Division approved massive rate increases on the 500,000-plus Oregonians who hold individual and small-group insurance plans.

Senate bills 717, 718 and 719 would bring greater oversight of the rate-increase process and bring the insurance industry for the first time under the state Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

Shields says the insurance industry has successfully killed SB 718, which would provide greater oversight over the rate-review process, and SB 719, which would bring the insurance industry under federal consumer-protection law.

But Shields says there is still a chance for SB 717, which is another attempt to provide greater oversight over rate reviews.

"It may not be too late," Shields says.

Providence spokesman Gary Walker responded to WW's request for comment with an email that says in part:

I want to direct you to Mike Becker’s testimony. Mike is our director of regional advocacy and public affairs who has been coordinating our testimony on this bill. In a hearing on May 18th, Mike told the Transportation and Economic Joint Subcommittee: “Oregon has one of the most competitive health care markets in the country … we have a nationally-recognized, transparent and extensive rate review process. In House Bill 2009, we implemented extensive rate review processes that started in 2010 … in addition to a public comment period of 30 days. … The ink is barely dry on the new system. And in light of that, we think it unreasonable and not called for to completely change to a utility-style regulatory model when we already have one of the most progressive rate review models in the country.”