States get funds to boost oversight of health insurance premiums

By Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times

The Obama administration is sending $1-million grants to state insurance regulators to help increase oversight of rising health insurance premiums, a key step in implementing the new healthcare law.

The grants announced Monday, which went to all but five states, will enable many to expand public access to information about rate hikes and to hire experts to review what insurers want to charge.

More than a dozen states also plan to seek additional authority to block insurance premium increases they deem unjustified, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fewer than half of state insurance commissioners have comprehensive “prior approval” authority, which gives them the power to review insurance company records and stop proposed rate increases in the individual and small-group markets.

Some states do not even require insurers to publicly report proposed rate hikes.

The Obama administration and many consumer advocates had hoped that the new healthcare law would give all states full rate review authority. But, blocked from including such a provision in the final legislation, the administration has urged state leaders to push forward on their own.

Commissioners in several states with a history of minimal oversight such as Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana and Montana are doing just that.

And many states that already have prior approval authority — including Florida and Maryland — are taking steps to strengthen their oversight.

The District of Columbia also will receive a grant.

To read more, visit: http://www.latimes.com/health/la-fi-health-premiums-20100817,0,6276483.story

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