In a letter sent today, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights condemned Senator Michael Enzi's (R-WY) new federal "association health plan" legislation that would deregulate the health insurance market and gut state patient protection laws. The bill was debated on Wednesday by the U.S. senate health committee and will be voted on by the committee next week.
"Under the guise of making health care affordable, your bill encourages HMOs and insurers to sell coverage that provides no benefit guarantees," wrote FTCR. "Your bill does nothing to address out of control health care costs -- like capping health insurance overhead costs -- which are now the fastest growing component of health care spending."
S. 1955 would:
- Deregulate health insurance by allowing any insurance company or HMO to circumvent state patient rights laws.
- Give a biased federal board authority to pre-empt HMO patients' bill of rights laws in 41 states.
- Allow the United States Secretary of Labor to unilaterally override state benefit requirements and patient services, such as: a woman's right to visit a OBGYN; a child's access to a Hepatitis B inoculation; coverage for diabetes treatment; access to a second doctor's opinion; and, independent medical review when an insurer denies access to treatments.
- Limit consumers' legal rights while expanding insurers' right to sue.
In the letter FTCR told the story of Dana Christensen who "owed more than $450,000 when her husband died of bone cancer even though they had an association health plan and had purchased a special rider for chemotherapy. Your bill encourages HMOs and insurers to sell the same kind of empty benefits policy to patients across the country."
Under S. 1955, new federal rules that replace State law will be offer far weaker patient protections. When replacing state law with federal rules, the federal board need only "consider... similar standards followed by a plurality of States."
According to FTCR, states like California and Massachusetts have some of the nation's strongest patient protections and will see patient rights rolled back if S. 1955 becomes law. Though similar legislation has been proposed in past sessions and passed by the House of Representatives, the bill has never moved in the Senate.
The Christensens' story can be found in an online resource published by FTCR outlining the association health plans' skeletal benefits.
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is California's leading nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization. For more information, visit us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org