February 16, 2011

Doctors, business groups clash with consumer advocates on new health care agency

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

As Maryland seeks to implement a key element of federal health care reform, doctors, insurance brokers and business groups are advocating less government control, while consumer and health care advocates want more consumer protections and voice in a new state agency.

The groups testified Tuesday on an O’Malley administration bill to create a “health benefit exchange” as a new government agency to deal with health insurance.

Federal health care reform requires states to create the new entities to help people with low incomes and no health insurance obtain it on the open market, and to aid individuals and businesses in finding the best insurance plan.

After a hearing in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, chairman Pete Hammen said that he hoped “in the end, we could all agree on a set of amendments” that would satisfy most of the concerns.

But he also predicted that it would wind up being “an independent government-run exchange,” that is “not dominated by special interests.”

Representatives of the state medical association, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Maryland Retailers Association all favored creation of a nonprofit corporation to run the exchange. Insurance brokers who now handle most of the health coverage for small businesses were particularly concerned that a new government agency would seek to take business away from them, as had happened in Massachusetts.

“We’re concerned by the size and scope and power of the exchange,” said Bryson Popham, a lobbyist for the brokers. But, he said, “a constructive dialogue has been begun.”

“It is not our intent to make the broker-client relationship go away,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown assured the committee, noting that the brokers employ tens of thousands of people.

Jay Schwartz, representing the medical association, said he could foresee some kind of strange hybrid agency with some of the features of a public body and private nonprofit.

But Deb Rivkin testifying for CareFirst, the largest health insurer in the state, wanted the health benefit exchange to be “an independent unit of state government.”

Hammen said he was also concerned about the proliferation of councils, commissions and agencies dealing with health care.

The various stakeholders are continuing to meet with Brown, Hammen, administration officials and committee members to hammer out a compromise.

  • Jturne

    It is very interesting that after Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia found the primary funding vehicle, the individual mandate, violates the constitution and Judge Vinson in Florida wrote that the entire law must be voided because the individual insurance mandate is “not severable” from the rest of the law, that the Obama Administration and Maryland are pressing ahead. Virginia has requested that the Hudson opinion receive an expedited review by the Supreme Court. Maryland legislators have SB 388 “Establishing the Maryland Health System” waiting in the wings for a March hearing. This Bill will require the Health System to provide health care services to all RESIDENTS (citizen status to be of no concern) of the State UNDER A SINGLE SYSTEM (“Single Payer”?). While the State has received Federal (Stimulus?) moneys for an implementation compatible with ObamaCare, I would have to question both the implications/legitimacy of expending moneys (Federal or State) potentially for nought, particularly with the Federal moneys being potentially exposed to repayment. I don’t know about others, but (As a former Social Security Disability Examiner – State and Federal) I neither want or feel I need Federal and State Bureaus and Bureacrats to impose themselves by taking my health care dollars and overseeing my decisions to seek medical care and my providers abilities/rights to provide them.

    All this smacks of Political Posturing for Political Ends, ObamaCare having been widely exposed as, like the British, Canadian and Massachusetts incarnations insupportably costly and sources of substantial patient harms through rationing (decisions of what and if care will be tendered under certain circumstances) that ultimately gets imposed to control costs!

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