California as the bogeyman…

With our California Health Benefits Exchange set to meet next week, April 20th, it’s important to highlight one of its key abilities: to be able to negotiate for the best price and value for its members.

Yet some continue to oppose that key consumer benefit. Thank you to Wendell Potter for bringing the new Choice and Competition Coalition to our attention, just announced at their new website: http://www.choiceandcompetitioncoalition.org/

In a article entitled The ‘Front Group’ Hall of Shame, Wendell Potter describes the new effort:

So what do the insurer’s newest coalition hope to achieve? Well, according to a brief item on an industry website, the first priority is to assure that states set up their required health insurance “exchanges” in ways that protect the interests of insurers and the agents and brokers who sell their products. Of course, they won’t describe it that way.

The reform law gives states wide latitude in how they operate their exchanges. Utah already has an exchange, and the insurance industry really likes it. That’s because the exchange is little more than a website where insurers can post all their benefit plans, even the ones that all but guarantee the purchasers will be underinsured. Those plans, by the way, are very profitable for insurers because they rarely have to pay out much in claims. Utah officials do relatively little to assure state residents that they are getting any value for what they buy.

California, on the other hand, is taking an approach the insurance companies hate. When the California exchange is up and running in 2014, it will vet the insurers’ benefit plans and only offer those it deems to be of value to consumers.

According to a recent story in Politico, the CCC will include America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry’s big lobbying group; AHIP’s longtime ally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; PhRMA, the drug makers’ lobbying group, and the National Association of Health Underwriters, which represents agents and brokers. The CCC will be advocating for exchanges that “promote competition and preserve consumer choice.” The story said the group “is likely to advocate for exchanges that allow maximum participation, unlike the selective contracting model employed by California.”

AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach as saying, “Many stakeholders agree that exchanges must be true marketplaces that maximize choice and competition so that consumers and small businesses can purchase the plan that best meets their needs.”

I am so grateful I no longer have to say stuff like that to the media. But I do agree with Zirkelbach that many stakeholders want the exchanges to be more like Utah’s and less like California’s. And those stakeholders are the 1,300 health plans AHIP says it represents and the agents and brokers who worry that their services will no longer be needed if the states’ exchanges do what Congress intended. And that is to provide us with the information we need to help us select the coverage that will protect us from financial ruin if we get sick or injured and help us avoid the junk insurance.

I, for one, am just so glad there’s a voice out there for the voiceless businesses, providers, brokers, and insurers, protecting us consumers against those awful ideas from California. I hate it when a California bill, signed by a Republican Governor and backed by various business, providers, and insurers, take ahold in Hollywood and corrupt the young and impressionable minds of health policy wonks elsewhere.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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