March 12th, 2009 | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Legislature

Battle to Protect Insurance Customers Goes to Salem

Health insurance

The ongoing battle to help struggling ratepayers by beefing up state oversight of the insurance industry is flaring up in Salem.

The House Consumer Protection Committee held public hearings Wednesday on efforts to sharpen the teeth of the state Insurance Division. The division is charged with protecting individual ratepayers but has recently been accused of rolling over for Regence BlueCross BlueShield.

Three bills are in play. Two of them — HB 2432 and HB 2433 — were introduced by the insurance division itself. Larry Kirsch, a Portland health-care economist and outspoken critic of what he calls lax oversight at the insurance division — says the two proposals would have hardly any real effect on protecting ratepayers.

"They were very modest in terms of new authority or strengthening authority," Kirsch tells WW. "In many cases I felt that (the insurance division) already had the authority that they needed, and the bills were merely to confirm authority that they already had but maybe were loath to use."

The third bill — HB 3145 — was introduced by the prolific state Rep. Chip Shields (D-North Portland). Kirsch says Shields' bill would provide better oversight than what currently exists. But he says even this bill could use some more heft.

"I didn't think it was adequate as it stood," Kirsch says. "On the part of the main sponsors anyway, I think there was some willingness to consider some tightening and some revisions."

To delve deeper, you can download an audio file of the March 11 hearings here.

Notes from Kirsch's tesimony, including a comparison between rate increases here and in Rhode Island, are here (PDF).
 
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