Bryan Goes to Austin: Insurance Reform Appears to be a Secondary Issue with TX Legislature

I just returned from Austin, where a group of 100 Texas insurance professionals tried to meet with as many members of the Texas Legislature as possible. The primary goal of the meetings was to offer suggestions on how to make the required INSURANCE EXCHANGE more user-friendly for Texans learning about health insurance options in Texas, including Medicaid and the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Each state is allowed to create its own version of the federally required Insurance Exchange. We believe health insurance agents should continue to play a role in giving advice about and servicing insurance policies in conjunction with the information found on the exchange.  Agents can do this in a more cost effective and “customer service oriented” way compared to government sponsored help-line employees or “Navigators” provided by government grant money.

While in Austin, we heard that President Obama recently told a group of governors visiting the White House, that individual states could opt out of some of the federally mandated insurance reforms if the governor could prove the regulations were disrupting the insurance market in their state. By disruption, we assume that means the new rules directly affect the availability of insurance plans from insurance carriers and the escalating monthly premiums can be directly correlated to the insurance reform. Texas would still have to enforce most of the core changes created by the reform such as unlimited lifetime medical benefits, 100% coverage without co-pay on preventative procedures and creating a web-based Insurance Exchange.

This group of agents felt that the health insurance market in Texas has already been disrupted to a certain extent by the federal mandates which started in 2010 and will be fully implemented by 2014. Recently, Principal, Guardian and Unicare health insurance companies have quit doing group business in Texas. It has also been rumored a couple large individual health insurance carriers may be following suit on individual plans. All individual health insurance carriers have quit issuing child only policies since the summer of 2010. This has prevented a common practice of employees (that cannot afford to put their children on their employer insurance plans) from being able to place the children on more affordable individual plans. Ironically, many school teachers have done this for their children, and now the cost of school employees’ health insurance is going up again in 2011, so these children will be impacted doubly.

 We feel the central problem with insurance in Texas is the COST, and anything that decreases competition in our insurance market will have a negative impact on cost and availability.

I had an interesting morning in Austin trying to wedge myself into legislators’ offices amongst other concerned constituents. Then I listened to four hours of testimony in the insurance committee from people wanting to require more specified, specific disease coverage on all health insurance policies sold in Texas. Other ideas were also discussed on how an insurance exchange would save Texans time and energy by making it easier for more individuals to sign up for Medicaid. None of the speakers ever mentioned ideas for lowering the costs of insurance.

After a long day in Austin, I became more sympathetic to the job of our Legislators with all the concerns of the budget crisis and dealing with the hordes of constituents that were roaming the halls pushing for more money for their cause. I know they will have problems finding solutions to the insurance cost issues in Texas, especially if the federal mandates are not effective in the long run to help with costs. I will continue to support them in this process any way I can and will keep you informed of any further meetings I have in Austin.

– Bryan C. Keathley, President, Safe Harbor Benefits, Inc.

This entry was posted in Life and Health Related, Personal Insurance: House, Auto, etc., Useful Info. Bookmark the permalink.