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Advocates Say Insurance Bill Is 'Anti-Consumer'

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110329.mp3

Business interests got the upper hand Tuesday in shaping a key piece of legislation meant to offer health insurance to people without coverage. Consumer advocates say the bill approved by a panel of North Carolina lawmakers is "anti-consumer." The measure would create a marketplace for health insurance plans so individuals and small businesses that can't afford insurance will be able to find an affordable option. But the House health committee has now approved a re-write of the bill that Democrat Verla Insko says does little to help the uninsured. "The bill, as written, is really written for the benefit of the industry and not for the benefit of the people who will be using it," says Insko, who drafted an alternative bill that includes many compromises hashed out by a task force the state convened. But Insko says her bill won't get a hearing. Republicans prefer to run their own bill with significant input from the insurance industry which helped draft it. In their version, insurers have a voting seat on the governing board of the benefits exchange. Consumer advocates - and even the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner - say that's a conflict of interest, since insurers will also be competing for business in the exchange. Lew Borman with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina disagrees. "Whoever is appointed by whatever authority would have to fall under the ethics guidelines that had been passed a couple years ago," says Borman. "And again we believe that insurers add important expertise to the discussion." Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin has recommended insurers have a non-voting seat on the board. But as the measure stands, insurers, doctors, hospitals and the business community have the majority of votes on the exchange board. Only to two votes are reserved for people who might be covered by affordable insurance plans. Consumer advocates also say the bill does little to guarantee the coverage offered in the marketplace would actually be affordable. Blue Cross' Borman says that's not the point of the legislation. "It meets the federal guidelines and mandates to put together a web-based marketplace," says Borman. "(The exchange) doesn't manage costs. This really advertises those costs and those plans across the board from Blue Cross and other insurers." Consumer groups want the governing board of the marketplace to be able to limit premiums and require uniform benefit plans so people could comparison shop easily. The bill approved by the House Health Committee Tuesday does not do those things. The measure will now be considered by the House Insurance Committee.