Breaking: Oregon Regulators Stand Up to Insurers

Chip Shields

Today's a good day for small businesses and consumers...
 
From David Rosenfeld at The Lund Report:
Despite heated objections by health insurance companies, state regulators at the Oregon Insurance Division finalized rules today making every part of their rate filing open to the public.
The new rules solidify aspects of House Bill 2009 passed by the 2009 Oregon Legislature that require insurers to disclose more information about expenses and give regulators more authority to consider whether premium hikes are justified.
 
“Consumers now will be able to see everything their health insurer provides the state when they request a rate change,” said Teresa Miller, administrator of the Insurance Division. “We look forward to providing even more information to Oregonians about potential rate changes and receiving their input through a new public comment process.”
 
Oregon’s five largest health insurers along with the national trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, argued in comments to the Division that the new rules would expose trade secrets, harm competition and increase rates.
 
Several implied they might sue. A representative for LifeWise called the rules unconstitutional, but none put it quite as succinctly as Theresa Neibert, manager of regulatory advocacy and consulting for Kaiser.
 
“These new rules will invite instability, confusion, uneven treatment of carriers and litigation,” Neibert wrote. “This may embroil the division in costly litigation.”
 
The Insurance Division basically called their bluff.
 
The health reform package passed by the Oregon legislature in 2009 covers an additional 80,000 Oregon kids and an additional 35,000 adults. But this increased coverage for the previously uninsured will only mean lower costs for small businesses and those who already have insurance if we hold health insurance companies accountable to justify proposed premium increases.

Health insurance companies should have to justify premium increases.  And small businesses and consumers should be able to contest the outrageous premium increases that are squeezing Oregon's middle class. But there's no way to contest premium increases if the insurance companies are holding back key actuarial data from their rate filings.  You can't contest what you can't see.

I commend Insurance Division administrator Teresa Miller and I also want to praise the work of the dream team of small-business and consumer advocate "Davids" I asked to quietly fight the health insurance corporate lobby "Goliaths" on rate filing transparency.

The dream team included public interest lawyer Linda Williams; health care economist Larry Kirsch, spouse of Karen Kirsch who contested Regence's 2008 rate increase; Oregon Small Business for Responsible Leadership's Ann L. Fisher ; Cessco Inc. HR manager Sean Moriarty; and former Health Net VP Rick Skaylan. They joined with OSPIRG's Laura Etherton to argue forcefully that no part of a rate filing can justifiably be withheld from public scrutiny.  Etherton and OSPIRG have been at the forefront of fighting this battle from the start.

Senator Chris Edwards (D-Eugene) and I were prepared to pass SB 1029 this session if the Insurance Division decided against rate-filing transparency.  You can read about it in our Blue Oregon post from last month.

SB 1029 is no longer needed, but we will continue to press to strengthen the insurance rate review process.
 

The Oregon Insurance Division is part of the state Department of Consumer & Business Services.  To see the Division's press release on this topic, click here.
 
To see the full Lund Report's story on this topic click here.

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Despite heated objections by health insurance companies, state regulators at the Oregon Insurance Division finalized rules today making every part of their rate filing open to the public. The new rules solidify aspects of House Bill 2009 passed by the 2009 Oregon Legislature that require insurers to disclose more information about expenses and give regulators more authority to consider whether premium hikes are justified."

    Thus rebutting the Republican claim "if only we could sell insurance across state lines..............."

    Didn't a bill to do just that fail when Republicans controlled Congress in the Bush years because state regulators opposed it?

  • (Show?)

    great going, Chip. nice to see Leg & agency work together for the people. this is yet another reason why we need real annual sessions.

    oh, if you're not busy tomorrow, please pass HB3644 to the floor for a vote. it's a great bill & will help transform Oregon's economy. thanks!

  • (Show?)

    great going, Chip. nice to see Leg & agency work together for the people. this is yet another reason why we need real annual sessions.

    oh, if you're not busy tomorrow, please pass HB3644 to the floor for a vote. it's a great bill & will help transform Oregon's economy. thanks!

  • mlw (unverified)
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    This is important. Most people don't realize that traditional insurance regulation is left to the states, rather than the federal government. The states are generally ill-equipped to manage insurance effectively and generally do a shoddy job of it, to the detriment of the consumers. Oregon's willingness to take an active role is laudable. To often, states give insurers a free pass.

    Now, of course, the Legislature has to be willing to appropriate enough money to DBCS so that they can exercise their power effectively.

  • jaycosnett (unverified)
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    More damned gubbmint regulation making it harder to earn a dishonest buck here in Or-E-Gone. Self-respecting Repuli-goons gonna haveta find themselves another state with suckers willing to flush themselves down the deregulatory crapper!

  • fatimahkatriel (unverified)
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    Get medical insurance for your entire family at the best price from http://bit.ly/atGzeD

  • Zarathustra is my real pseudonym (unverified)
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    Wonderful! It's incredible that this is a battle. Far more needs to follow force them into an attitude adjustment. Agree with all the points made so far.

    Posted by: fatimahkatriel | Feb 16, 2010 10:27:16 PM

    Get medical insurance for your entire family at the best price from http://bit.ly/atGzeD

    Now if the blog would just stand up to link spammers.

  • bjc (unverified)
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    Are there any citizen groups out there that will scrutinize the filings in detail?

  • riverat (unverified)
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    t.a., what the heck is "Economic Gardening"?

  • Morris_Todd (unverified)
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    Are you willing to speak to the media about this? I ask because you seem to avoid talking to them on your crime bills.

    "State Sen. Chip Shields, the architect of House Bill 3508, did not return five different calls placed by KGW News."

  • Dave Rosenfeld (unverified)
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    bjc asks: Are there any citizen groups out there that will scrutinize the filings in detail?

    Our team at OSPIRG plans to continue watchdogging rate filings. Big thanks to Senator Shields and Representative Harker for their leadership here.

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