WASHINGTON BUREAU — Insurance industry groups are taking note of some changes made in the Senate Finance Committee health bill that they like but worrying about many of the provisions that are still there.
Producer groups won important victories when the committee was marking up its version of the chairman’s mark of the America’s Healthy Future Act bill: The bill now contains a provision which says that insurance agents can sell insurance to individuals and to businesses through any health insurance exchange system.
Drafters of the AHFA mark want to use health exchanges to negotiate low rates for high-quality coverage for individuals and small groups, and to get premium subsidies to eligible individuals and groups. Agents worried that the original version of the health exchange provision appeared to shut them out.
Tom Currey, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., has welcomed the Finance Committee’s move to open the exchange system to producers.
“Reforming the American health care system is no easy task,” he says in a statement. “We are pleased that, at each step of the way, agent priorities have been included in the proposals. Paramount for NAIFA, of course, is recognition of the critical role agents play in servicing consumers.”
But “NAIFA still has a number of concerns that need to be addressed before final passage” of any health bill, Currey says.
NAIFA would like to see the provisions requiring individuals to own health coverage to have more teeth, Currey says.
“Weak mandates could devastate affordable insurance,” Currey says. “If people can carry insurance only when they’re sick or injured, the price of insurance will skyrocket for everyone. This is a very difficult problem that Congress must resolve.”
Similarly, NAIFA understands that finding new tax revenue to pay for health reform and coverage expansion will be difficult, but it believes there is growing opposition in the House to the Senate’s ideas of proposing a “luxury tax” on expensive health insurance, Currey says.
Meanwhile, Currey says, a House proposal to pay for part of the cost of health reform by imposing a surcharge on high-income Americans is also drawing growing opposition.
Peter Stein, a vice president at the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., is more critical of the version of the AHFA mark approved by the Finance Committee.
A successful health reform program should keep premiums affordable and ensure that people can keep the private coverage that they like, Stein says.
But the Finance Committee made a “number of significant changes” during the mark up that would interfere with achieving those goals, Stein says.
NAHU is particularly concerned, Stein says, about committee moves to weaken a mandate that would require individuals to own health coverage; impose tens of billions of dollars in new insurer fees and taxes; and impose constraints on age rating and minimum benefit levels that would make private health insurance unaffordable for many Americans.