Groups: Insurance firms shouldn't play role in health reform

Posted March 2, 2011 12:53 p.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2011 1:41 p.m. EST

— A coalition of groups urged lawmakers Wednesday to keep insurance companies out of the mix as the state sets up a program to allow people to shop for health coverage in the coming years.

The year-old national health care reform law requires people to buy health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties. To assist people who can't obtain coverage through their employers, such as self-employed people or workers at a small business, states have to set up nonprofits called health benefit exchanges, where they can compare different plans.

Two competing bills have been introduced in the state House – one sponsored by Republican lawmakers and the other sponsored by Democrats – that would begin the process of setting up North Carolina's health benefit exchange.

An organization called Citizens for Responsible Health Care rallied outside the legislature on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to devise a plan that is easy to understand for consumers, provides clear benefits and good values. The organization also said the exchange should be independent of any oversight by insurance companies.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has been criticized in recent weeks for backing the Republican-sponsored health exchange bill, which would include insurance industry representatives on the exchange's board of directors. Some have said Blue Cross, the state's largest insurer, helped craft the bill and is working to push it through the General Assembly, allegations the company denies.

"We do not think that insurance companies should have any role in regulating themselves, and we do not think that insurance companies should be setting the criteria for health plans being sold in the exchange," said Abby Emanuelson, state public policy director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a member of Citizens for Responsible Health Care.

Insurance industry representatives said they have the experience to guide the exchanges so that people using them to buy health coverage get the best possible plans.

"We think that the navigators involved in explaining the programs and policies to customers need to be represented by insurance agents who've got years of experience in the business and who have the background and the training to make those decisions and to make those recommendations," said Charles Holder of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers and the National Association of Health Underwriters.

AARP, Action for Children, Disability Rights North Carolina and the AFL-CIO are among the dozen groups that make up Citizens for Responsible Health Care.