Floridians may pay unreasonable health insurance rates under Obamacare because of a bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, says U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.
In a letter co-signed by Floridas nine other House Democrats, Deutch says the law takes away Floridas ability to negotiate lower rates with companies or refuse rates that are too high.
The Aug. 1 letter goes on to ask the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to protect Florida consumers since Gov. Scott, the Florida Legislature and Insurance Commissioner (Kevin) McCarty will not.
Did the governor and Legislature prevent the commissioner from negotiating lower rates?
Legislators faced a unique challenge during their 60-day session this spring. Unlike many states that had laid groundwork to implement the Affordable Care Act since it became law in 2010, Florida repeatedly refused.
But with the law upheld by the Supreme Court and President Barack Obama back in office, the state was stuck. It had refused federal money to help with the transition. Now it was also running out of time.
A state Senate committee sought to do as little as possible to meet the laws requirements.
We want to make sure that were in compliance, that were doing what were required to do, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said at a March meeting.
The Affordable Care Act assumed that states would continue to take a lead role in setting insurance rates, just as Florida had done in the past. It encouraged states to strengthen their rate-setting authority, offering millions of dollars in grant money to help. But it didnt require that.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation faced a serious time-crunch to get up to speed on a host of new requirements under the law. Legislators offered a compromise. If the federal government wanted to impose new coverage requirements well, it could set rates, too.
Since the federal government is requiring these additional coverages that will cost more, said Sen. Joe Negron, Republican chair of the Affordable Care Act Committee, then to me it makes sense for them to be responsible for approving rate increases that are certain to come.
Democrats on the committee agreed with this approach.
I think were going to find its going to cost us a lot of money to set rates here in Florida, said Sen. Eleanor Sobel. I think we should rely on the federal government.
She expressed confidence the federal government would have a greater wealth of knowledge.
One hitch: the federal government didnt give itself rate-making authority.
What resulted was Senate Bill 1842, which among other things, suspended for two years the requirement that insurers get state approval for rates for new plans such as those that will appear on new marketplaces. Companies would still have to file rate changes with the state. But they could act on those changes without approval.
Sobel now says that wasnt at all clear at the time.
The bill earned unanimous support from the Senate Appropriations Committee, then passed the Senate 28-8, mostly along party lines. Six senators voted after roll call, including Sobel, who changed her vote from yea to nay.
I was reading very quickly. Then I realized this was something that was not good for the people of the state of Florida, she said.