Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fighting for States' Patient Rights.

Mark Zapler of Mercury News does some further reporting on an issue I posted about a few days ago: the loss of patients' rights in states where stricter regulations have been imposed. The new bill could, by allowing insurers to sell their policies across state lines, bypass state regulations - something that the insurance industry will undoubtedly appreciate but that legislators are working to prevent.

As bills are written at the federal level, they do no automatically take precedent over state laws. But the new health care bill will let insurers off the hook in states that have worked to protect their citizens by allowing them to abide by the laws of the state they register their plans in and then sell around other state's laws. It's being called a race to the bottom; a common place for the "free market" to take provision of medical care for the sake of profits and "freedom from government regulation."

A host of medical services that insurers must pay for in California — from cancer screenings to diabetes treatment to two-day hospital stays for delivering mothers — could be weakened or lost if the health care measures pending in Congress become law.

Currently, any health insurer selling policies in California must comply with the state's extensive consumer protections. The reform measures would allow insurance firms to sell policies across state lines if certain conditions were met, bypassing California's rules in favor of the requirements in the state where the policy is issued.

The result, critics warn, would be a "race to the bottom," in which insurance companies set up shop in states with the weakest consumer rights and skirt California's lengthy list of mandated health care services.

"This has the potential to wipe out all of these hard-fought protections," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who led the drive for several of those mandates as a state legislator earlier in her career and is now threatening to vote against a health care overhaul that weakens California's standards.

Speier and 28 other Democratic House members from California outlined their concerns about interstate health insurance sales in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last week.

"Practically speaking, insurers will domicile their plans in states with less stringent regulations and market to the population in more protective states like ours, just like nationally chartered banks have done," stated the letter, which was signed by several other Bay Area Democrats. "California residents will lose out if state protections are undermined."

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