Hooray for Transparency… Oh wait, not that kind of transparency….

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Yesterday Democratic Legislative Leaders quietly announced that they had reached an “agreement” with the Malloy Administration on the bill that was once known as An Act Concerning The Rate Approval Process For Certain Health Insurance Policies.

Originally known as Senate Bill #11, the legislation passed the Connecticut State Senate 36-0 and the House of Representatives 131-14.

The bill established a public hearing process for when individual and small employer group health insurance companies and HMOs sought rate increases of 10 percent or more.

It required that Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate and Attorney General be parties to any insurance rate increases hearings, increased the amount of time required before a new rate can take effect, mandated the Insurance Department post rate filings on its website and provided the public with a 30-day comment

Supporters of the initiative included all the major Democratic Legislative leaders, Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate, ConnPIRG, Citizens for Economic Opportunity, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, the Connecticut Working Families Party, the CT AFL-CIO and the Connecticut’s leading advocate for those facing serious illnesses, a group called Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness.

Opponents included all the major insurance associations including the America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Insurance Association of Connecticut, the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the American Council of Life Insurers and Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield (the entity that had sparked the need for the law when they had requested and almost got last year’s record-breaking premium increases).

But despite heavy lobbying, in the end, the Democrats (and Republicans) supported the transparency and consumer protection legislation.

And then Governor Malloy, who had strongly opposed the huge Anthem increase last year stunned the proponents and advocates by vetoing the bill.

At the time Malloy said, “The Connecticut Department of Insurance already conducts an objective actuarial analysis of each and every rate increase request… The current process fully protects Connecticut’s residents from excessive and discriminatory rate increases.”

For an earlier post on the topic see my blog on Malloy’s veto: http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/the-power-of-vengeance%e2%80%a6malloy-strikes-back-at-the-unions-at-progressives-at-the-public/

Yesterday a press release from the Democratic leaders announced that rather than attempt to override the Governor’s veto, “the legislature and executive branch are working together to achieve a common goal – greater transparency and public input in the rate increase approval process for health insurance.

The agreement does allow the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) to request that the Insurance Commissioner hold a hearing on rate increases, but only if the increase is at least 15 percent or higher rather than the 10 percent threshold that was included in the legislation.

The agreement also appears to limit the number of hearings to no more than 4 a year.

While the press release is a bit short on details, the agreement appears to relieve the Insurance Commissioner from having to adopt any rules or regulations concerning the definition of when a rate increase is considered excessive or discriminatory.

Some other aspects of the legislation also seem to have disappeared.

The Governor’s website makes no mention of the agreement; however, the press release put out by the Senate Democrats does include the traditional array of self-congratulatory quotes.

Senate President Don Williams said “The General Assembly overwhelming approved Senate Bill 11 because its members believe in the importance of changing the way rate hikes are approved…The Governor shares our concerns and is working with us to immediately improve the process.”

House Speaker Chris Donovan said, “We passed this bill after hearing from thousands of residents facing unconscionable increases in their insurance premiums-small businesses, self-employed individuals and those looking for work-folks who have no leverage to negotiate with the big insurance companies. That is why I am pleased that Governor Malloy and Commissioner Leonardi have agreed to a compromise that will allow public hearings and the participation of the Healthcare Advocate in the rate approval process.”

And Governor Malloy concluded that “This compromise will ensure that consumers have a voice in proposed insurance rate increases without compromising the health and competitiveness of the state’s insurance industry.”

And with that, the drive for transparency takes another step forward followed by another step backwards.