NU Online News Service, April 29, 5:15 p.m. – Many state insurance regulatory agencies are unable or unwilling to give Congress basic information about competition in their small-group health insurance markets.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, a congressional research agency, recently surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia about small-group competition, at the request of Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Missouri, the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

The GAO sent the survey in electronic form, then had employees call the states that failed to return the surveys.

Not all states “had the information needed to answer all questions,” Kathryn Allen, a GAO health care director, writes Bond in a letter describing the results of the 51-jurisdiction survey.

? Regulators in Nevada, New Mexico and Rhode Island failed to respond to the GAO at all.

? Regulators in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and West Virginia responded, but they had no information about their states’ small-group carriers.

? Regulators in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Nebraska and Virginia could provide only the number of licensed carriers in their small-group markets.

? Regulators in California and Oklahoma gave the GAO the number of licensed carriers in their small-group markets, and also dared to guess that a Blue Cross or Blue Shield company might be the biggest player in their small-group markets. But California and Oklahoma provided no other market share data.

In the end, “34 states provided market share data,” Allen writes.

Allen’s team found that the number of licensed carriers in the 37 states that had data ranged from four in Hawaii to 77 in Indiana. The average number was 28.

The median market share of the largest small-group carrier ranged from 14% in Texas to 89% in North Dakota, where a Blue Cross and Blue Shield carrier dominates the market.

In nine states, Blue Cross and Blue Shield carriers combine for half or more of the market, Allen writes.

The GAO released Allen’s letter today, 30 days after she sent it to Bond. The text of her letter is available on the GAO Web site, at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02536r.pdf