New York Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky

The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) intends to make public all previously approved health insurance rate applications filed with the department, attempting to abolish a policy shielding the applications, according to a letter from the DFS’s records access officer, attorney Sally Geisel.

The DFS will try to also lift the disclosure shield on written determinations from the department concerning the rates, according to the letter.

The letter follows a public tussle among insurers, consumer advocates and Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, over double-digit premium rate increases, and apparent skyrocketing premiums seen to target those who could least afford it, in the individual and small-group policy, according to news accounts.

Already this week, 10 insurers and the industry trade group wrote back and objected, according to a DFS spokesman. The department is expected to reply to them later this week, he said.

“Accordingly, … we hereby notify you of your right…to submit to the department a written statement of the necessity to continue the exception to disclosure within ten business days of receipt of this letter,” DFS’s Geisel wrote.  

The department will reply within seven business days by issuing a written determination whether it intends to continue or terminate the exception to disclosure.

The DFS letter referred to Public Officers Law § 89(5)(b) for a complete description of the relevant procedures.   

“We have some problems with the way that this was handled,” said a spokeswoman from The New York Health Plan Association. “The rules of the game were changed in the middle of the game,” she said, stressing that the Association is working with the department.

There were always going to be some materials that were to be publicly available and some that were not, and the association has an issue with those that are to become public after the fact, after the carriers were told they were protected by non-disclosure.

If the health plans had known, they would have sought protection for certain proprietary pieces of information, the spokeswoman said.

“I think right now plans are in the process of asking, or going back to the department to file exemptions from the FOIA,” she noted, pointing out that the plans have worked together with the department on these and other filings in the past.