Marketplace Radio Program (NPR)
The following commentary by FTCR President Jamie Court, was broadcast on Monday, March 13, 2006 on the Marketplace Radio Program on NPR. Click here to listen to the audio of the commentary.
TESS VIGLAND – HOST: It’s called the United States of America. That doesn’t mean the states are always united or that they even agree with the federal government. And they have a good amount of leeway to pass their own laws and regulations. But sometimes the feds decide to step in. Last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation stopping states from having food-warning labels that are tougher than federal standards. This Wednesday, a Senate committee will vote on a bill that allows health insurers to ignore state benefit requirements. Commentator and consumer advocate Jamie Court says more at stake here than states’ rights.
JAMIE COURT (FTCR) – COMMENTATOR: I’m all for the federal government’s right to protect Interstate commerce. That way, all Americans can enjoy the free flow of goods and services.
But lately, it feels like the White House and Congress think “U.S.” stands for Undo the States.
You see, traditionally states have had the ability to protect their own when it comes to public health matters like truth in labeling laws and licensing requirements for doctors, hospitals and insurers.
Take the HMO Patients bill of rights. When patients complained of their HMOs delaying and denying care, it was 41 states, not the federal government that answered back with tough new standards.
The states allowed a panel of independent doctors to review HMO denials of care. Gave women the right to see OB-GYNs without referrals. Forced HMOs to pay for diabetes treatment.
The states simply said if an HMO wanted to be licensed there it had to follow those rules. And it’s been efficient for patients to turn to their state government, not DC, with their gripes.
But states’ health care standards are now on the chopping block. The day after tomorrow, U.S. Senators will decide whether to allow the Secretary of Labor and a panel he appoints to unilaterally override state benefit requirements.
Backers, including President Bush, say the so-called “association health plan” legislation will make health insurance coverage more affordable and available.
But the bill creates lowest common denominator insurance that can be sold in any state regardless of their standards. Businesses will likely opt for that lower coverage policy to save money.
If your HMO pays for your diabetes medication, but not the needle to deliver it, you’re not covered. If your association plan covers your hospital stay, but only up to a few hundred dollars per day, it’s not real insurance.
Insurers gave out $36 million to federal candidates during the 2004 election. Two thirds of that went to the GOP majority. With that kind of premium, it’s hardly surprising insurers’ll be the only ones left covered if this bill succeeds.