Posted on 30 Oct 2009
The healthcare bill unveiled on Thursday by Democrats in the House has several areas of concern to members of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.
"Although we are still combing through the 1,990-page bill – which it has been noted is longer than 'War and Peace' – PIA has already spotted a few provisions that are of concern," said PIA National Director of Federal Affairs Mike Becker.
While we are heartened that a provision allowing insurance agents and brokers under state law to participate in providing coverage to individuals and employers in qualified health plans offered through insurance exchanges was included, we are concerned with language added under a subsection entitled “Assistance for Small Employers” that designates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to design a program for small businesses.
This provision mandates that the SBA set up what is, in essence, a “navigators” program. SBA is required to provide educational activities to small businesses, along with distribution of information and “enrollment and plan selection assistance for employers” for health plans available under the Health Insurance Exchange.
In short, the SBA would be required to perform the functions of an insurance agency or brokerage for small groups of under 100. Professional, independent insurance agents and brokers already perform all of the services for consumers that the bill would require the SBA to provide. In addition, independent, private-sector insurance agents and brokers are better equipped to offer their clients objective assistance in “navigating” the choices offered through Health Insurance Exchanges. In contrast, a government-funded agency or third-party contractor could employ unlicensed individuals with no expertise in health insurance to perform functions that currently require state licensing.
The SBA provision is unnecessary and duplicative, and should be removed.
A provision repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act as it applies to health insurance and medical malpractice insurance is unnecessary. Although this section provides an exclusion for compiling and disseminating historical loss data, this still does not ameliorate our concern that this provision adds nothing to the bill. In fact, the bill states that its exemption to McCarran-Ferguson is to guarantee against “price fixing, market allocation or monopolization…” – all of which are already illegal under state law and have never been permitted under McCarran-Ferguson.
“PIA is also concerned about the cost of this bill,” said PIA National Executive Vice President & CEO Leonard C. Brevik. “The estimated price tag of the House healthcare bill is $894 billion. That’s real money. We’ve added trillions to our national debt, which will eventually have to be paid. The question that needs to be asked more often in Congress is: ‘Can we afford it?’”