By Monica J. Lindeen, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Office of the Montana State Auditor
Montana families and small businesses are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of health insurance premiums and the high cost of health care. I have heard the call to elected officials to address this important issue which is affecting our state’s economy and our health. Over the past year, I have been meeting with Montanans from all walks of life – business owners, farmers, ranchers, parents, grandparents, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, and anyone who was willing to visit about what needs to change.
The result of these meetings with everyday Montanans was the creation of a responsible plan to help control the cost of health insurance in Montana. That plan included four bills that I requested to be introduced in the Legislature over 45 days ago, all of which stand for the proposition that Montanans, not the federal government, know what’s best for Montana.
As your Insurance Commissioner, I get frustrated when I get a call from a family or small business person that just received notice their health insurance premiums are going up 20% for the year and there is nothing I can do for them. So, I proposed a bill (HB 105) that would give me the ability to review health insurance premium increases, just like 47 other states already do, to make sure working families and small businesses are getting the services they need at a fair price. It would create transparency, maintain state control by not handing control to the federal government, and allow me the opportunity to negotiate lower rates. Unfortunately, the bill did not have enough support to be voted out of committee, which seems irresponsible to the needs of Montanans.
Too often I hear from young parents that their child is repeatedly denied health insurance even when the child is healthy. So, I offered a second bill (HB 128) to place into Montana law that Montana kids with preexisting conditions could no longer be denied insurance. This bill would also focus on and encourage preventive care to help reduce costs, ensure that insurance companies could not cancel your coverage after you had been paying claims, except in the case of fraud, and would eliminate annual and lifetime limits to make sure you have coverage when you need it the most. Again, the bill failed in committee and some of our legislators appear to be out of step with the needs of Montanans.
My third bill (HB 129) was an attempt to reduce litigation in our health care system by giving you an appeals process, outside of a courtroom, to get your voice heard if a medical claim was denied or you disagreed with the health insurance company on what services should be covered. Again, the bill failed in committee. My heart goes out to every patient in Montana with cancer, or some other critical life-threatening disease, who now has to spend their precious time trying to find someone in Washington D.C. to help them get their treatment approved or paid for by the insurance company.
The final bill (HB 124) gives us a Montana solution for getting coverage for the uninsured by creating an online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can purchase health insurance and easily compare costs and benefits on an apples-to-apples basis. It also creates an opportunity for small businesses to pool together and take advantage of cost savings traditionally enjoyed by larger businesses. I remain hopeful that legislators will work together with me after transmittal to create our own Montana based online marketplace. This is a common sense “free market” solution and we should not put our heads in the sand and turn this over to the federal government.
In the final analysis, we simply need to do what’s best for Montana. It’s easy to say no to everything, but that’s not the Montana way. If the Legislature chooses to do nothing, the federal government will step in and control our health care destiny and I don’t think that’s right. This is an opportunity for the Montana Legislature to provide leadership and, in the coming days, I genuinely hope they will seize the opportunity and exhibit the kind of common sense leadership we all expect and deserve.