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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Vindictive health care bill targets consumers

Published May 29, 2013

The federal health care reform law has withstood a court challenge and a presidential election, but the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is still battling it. A bill that would allow health insurers to charge whatever they want, no matter how unreasonable, and blame the Affordable Care Act is on Gov. Rick Scott's desk. Its transparent intent is to infuriate Floridians over increases in health insurance costs and misdirect their anger toward the federal law. Scott should veto this vindictive and partisan bill, and voters should remember if the governor chooses politics over consumer protections for Florida families.

Republican lawmakers continue to punch at the federal law whenever they can. The House turned its back on $52 billion in federal money and refused to expand Medicaid, a central protection under the federal law. That means nearly a million poor Floridians will be denied health insurance that would have been paid for entirely by the federal government for the first three years, and Washington would always pay at least 90 percent of the cost. Scott and the Legislature also refused to set up an online health insurance exchange for Floridians to choose their health coverage, leaving that job to the federal government. The latest wrinkle is SB 1842, which temporarily strips away protections that prevent consumers from being gouged by health insurers.

The Office of Insurance Regulation would no longer have the authority to approve, modify or reject proposed rate increases for small group and individual health insurance plans in 2014 and 2015. This would not apply to "grandfathered" policies that were in effect as of 2010. In a letter to Scott urging a veto, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat and former state insurance commissioner, warned the bill would result in rate increases ranging from 10 percent to 70 percent. Florida would be transformed from a national model of oversight of health insurers to a state that has declared open season on consumers.

Lawmakers say they are temporarily letting the federal government regulate health insurance rates during the first years of the federal online exchanges. But the Affordable Care Act gives the federal government the power to only object to unreasonable rates, not reject them. For two years, health insurers would be unconstrained.

To direct anger for the rate increases toward federal health reform, the bill requires insurers to tell policyholders how much of their monthly premium is traced to the Affordable Care Act. That information would be broken down for maximum effect. Consumers would be told how much of the premium charged is attributable to the law's requirement that people with pre-existing conditions be covered without being charged higher rates. They would be told the dollar amount of the premium attributable to any fees or taxes in the law, as well as other breakdowns. What will be missing is an explanation of the law's positives, such as providing millions of uninsured Americans with health coverage and banning insurers from excluding those with pre-existing conditions.

Despite Scott's strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he has shown he can be reasonable, such as by supporting the expansion of Medicaid. Scott has until June 5 to decide to let this bill become law or veto it. His decision will indicate whether he is willing to put politics aside to stand with Florida's families.

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