We're still following the after effects of yesterday's coup in Albany, where Republicans teamed up with two Senate Democrats to wrest control of the State Senate away from Malcolm Smith. Reports talk about Tom Golisano helping to orchestrate the takeover - my question is did Golisano also orchestrate yesterday's Dictionary.com "Word of the Day", as well?
While this was happening, we were also in Albany testifying before the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance on the concept of "prior approval" of health insurance rates (read our full testimony here). In short, what that would mean is that as health insurance carriers determine their rates each year, they would need to seek the approval of the State's Insurance Department before making any increases. While no one likes rate increases of any kind, what that would do is take health insurance rates that are determined by the market - and, mind you, the proposed legislation does nothing to address the high COST of health care - and puts them in the hands of the government. The legislation seeks to take New York back to a failed experiment with prior approval in the 1990s, where health insurance rates would be artificially suppressed in election years, and then balloon in non-election years.
As a rule, we oppose taking things determined by the market and handing them over to the government to regulate. There are too many factors involved that make up that cost - in this case, pharmaceutical expenses, technological changes in medical procedures and products, expansion of insurance coverage, changes in the state's aging population. Oh, and of course the $850 million in taxes that Albany slapped on health insurace this year alone! From our perspective, regulation would also take away the insurance companies' flexibility in implementing new procedures and technology that would ultimately SAVE cost later.
I'm one of those rare people that actually enjoys public hearings (productive ones, that is - I'll explain in a moment), mainly because it's a good place to hear the opposition's arguments spelled out - if they have arguments. Yesterday was interesting - most of the opposition's argument was related, of course, to the big, bad insurance companies and how they overcharge and keep excessive reserves (which we learned are actually imperative for emergency coverage for catastrophic events such as 9/11 or pandemic). One group suggested that the proposed legislation wasn't even strong enough - that not only should the Insurance Department get the final say on rate approval, but that there should be public hearings for every rate increase. I believe someone said there were over 1,400 health insurance plans statewide - should be a fun time.
I have to give Assemblyman Joe Morelle from Rochester, who chaired the hearing credit - he did a phenomenal job, asking poignant, pertinent questions of speakers throughout the day. To these people, he asked what the purpose of such public hearings would be - so that everyone could scream and yell about insurance rates? They didn't have an answer. If you think about it, it's like having a public hearing about cancer. Who's going to show up in favor of it? It happens - and screaming about it does nothing. Instead, let's work to fix the problem. It befuddles me that the same people who are pushing for regulation on insurance rates are the same people who want health care in New York to be the "Cadillac" program in the country. The most comprehensive coverage in the nation requires someone to pay for it. "Prior approval" doesn't change the cost of health care - it just masks it.
For the Partnership and Unshackle Upstate, it gave us the chance to talk about some of our proposals to cut the cost of health care. We know that's where the discussion should be focused.