Experts tell Senate committee that Oregon can curb health insurance rate hikes with tougher reviews


Health insurance experts told a Senate committee today that Oregon could probably reduce insurance rate increases with a more aggressive and transparent review process that included options for public hearings.

"States that have an active, robust and publicly inclusive rate review process are generally better at getting lower premium increases for policy holders," said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, during testimony by telephone before the Senate government and small business protection committee. "We did find good evidence that even the threat of a rate hearing can cause carriers to reduce rate increases."

Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, chair of the committee, said he wants to push for a public review process that includes hearings.

"This is too important to small business to happen behind closed doors," he said. "They (insurance experts) made a pretty good case we need to have as much scrutiny as possible."

Rising health care insurance costs are "crushing the entrepreneurial spirit in Oregon," said Shields, noting he started two businesses and knows how hard it is for individuals and small groups to get affordable rates.

Charlie Ringo, a Bend attorney and former legislator, said he found "the current rate review system is a joke" in Oregon after representing Karen Kirsch in the state's first individual challenge of a health insurance rate request. Kirsch disputed the fairness of a request filed by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon to raise its rates for individual insurance 26 percent in 2008. An administrative judge ruled against Kirsch, and the case is now pending before the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Ringo told legislators that state insurance actuaries initially concluded that only a 2 percent rate increase could be justified by Regence. But after Regence's president at the time, Dr. Bart McMullan, met secretly with Cory Streisinger, head of the state agency that includes the Insurance Division, the full rate request was granted, he said.

"The thing I know for sure is this rate system is not protecting Oregon consumers," he said...

Read the full article here. Discuss below.

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    Kudos to Chip Shields and the for taking on this fight on behalf of Oregon ratepayers. Charlie Ringo is spot-on. Private insurance companies, privately held utilities, telecommunications giants, and the agencies that regulate them need to be much more accountable than they are currently.

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    I sometimes write to defend the insurance industry from what I consider unfair criticism, but on this I agree completely. There is no excuse for not exhaustively reviewing proposed rate changes, and not just for individual policies but group as well.

    The one comment I'd have for Chip Shields is that public hearings aren't much use without public data. You can't argue a rate increase in a meaningful way without getting into the nitty gritty.

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