Insurers wait on state's decision on health care fix

4:42 PM, Nov 15, 2013   |    comments
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MINNETONKA, Minn. - Minnesota-based insurers met with state insurance officials on Friday as they wait for Insurance Commissioner Mark Rothman to decide if Minnesota will participate in President Barack Obama's "fix" for the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, the President announced that old policies, regarded as inadequate under the ACA, would be allowed to be reoffered for 2014 if the states and the companies opt to allow that.

"Is it all the same benefits and cost sharing?" asked Geoff Bartsch, Medica Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations. "Does that include the same premium? The big one for us is, what does this mean essentially for the rates? Do we get to refile those products with rates that would be appropriate or do we have to use the rates that are out there today?"

Of equal concern for many insurers is the timing of the changes. The ACA requires that everyone have insurance on Jan. 1 or suffer a tax penalty. However, the change was announced on Nov. 14.

"Just on the face of it, 45 days is a really short period of time to create, price, file, get approved insurance products when the normal time frame for that is really more like 6 to 12 months," said Bartsh.

To date, states have been split on whether to OK the changes. Washington State and Arkansas both declined, while California, Florida and Kentucky are all for it. Minnesota's Insurance Commissioner has not weighed in.

Howard Buff of Medina, CEO of Orange Health Solutions and a former insurance executive, said it is unfair to blame health cost increases on the ACA. He said it does not have to be that way and health insurance should not be so expensive.

"Premiums for health care have been going up for the last 20-some odd years," said Buff. "They have outpaced consumer price index exponentially, oftentimes, double-digit increases."

As for cost increases by insurers passed on to consumers, Buff was frank.

"Any publicly traded company is very motivated to insure that they have better returns for their shareholders. At the end of the day, should the cost curve be reduced, publicly traded insurance firms would see, potentially, decreases in profits. However, that could offset by membership because if you saw more members because your prices were a little bit lower, it could be a win-win situation."

Buff said the ACA can become a very positive influence on health care cost because "reform is value-based", not "fee based" as in the present system. He explained the "value-based" means being determined by outcomes, not just procedures.

He said his new company works to use "accountability groups" to bring doctors, companies and customers in a collaborative effort to provide affordable health care.

"We think this is a great opportunity for consumers to take responsibility of their own care."

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