There’s no surer sign of legislative adjournment than the advent of the campaign season, and as of April 28 — thanks to the first and one of the biggest political parades of the year, the Vermont Maple Festival — the election year is off to a sweet start.
Thousands rallied for the sunny afternoon ritual, and there to wave and entertain were some familiar Montpelier faces — Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and his Democratic primary rival, TJ Donovan, plus two candidates for Franklin County Vermont state senate.
Republican Sen. Randy Brock was there too — on his first official campaign event as a candidate for governor — with a Bear for Brock in tow wearing tie-dye t-shirt with the slogan “Give the $21 million back to ratepayers!”
Brock said the slogan hit home with constituents who are upset about whether they’ll get their money back.
“It’s a campaign issue, and frankly it’s a nonpartisan issue,” Brock said. “If you look at various groups and coalitions forming this isn’t a Republican issue, this is an issue that crosses lines like few you see around Vermont. Instead of pitting right against left, it pits right against wrong.”
New bill would require health insurers to be transparent
As of this summer, health insurance companies in Vermont will be required to report the number of denied claims, appeals, and other grievances on BISCHA’s website with other company information.
Insurance companies could face more demands, however, depending on which version of S.200 is signed into law. The version of the bill passed in the Senate on March 29 is fairly bare bones, but the House version, amended this week by Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Orange, and passed 135-1, adds several more reporting requirements.
These include reporting the salaries of corporate officers and board members, political contributions, and advertising and lobbying expenses. It also adds a new section on pharmacy audits and reimbursements for ambulance services.
Sen. Anthony Pollina, P-Washington, one of the sponsors of S.200, said that he liked the changes made by the House.
“The more reporting, the more we know about insurance companies the better off we’re going to be as consumers,” Pollina said. “Hopefully someday we’re not going to even have a need for insurance companies, but as long as insurance companies are around, it’s important that we have as much information about their behaviour as possible so that people can make decent choices about who they want to do business with.”
VPIRG’s health-care advocate Cassandra Gekas said she was pleased with the bill, particularly the House version. Health insurance has been a campaign issue for the consumer advocacy group.
“I think it was just a huge victory for Vermonters, and I feel really proud of the fact that justice prevailed, that legislators sided on patients instead of on profit,” Gekas said. “And when I think about this in the big picture, health care and health insurance, we’re not talking about widgets,” she said. “From my perspective, Vermonters deserve to know not only how their premium dollars are being spent but also what the business practices are of health insurers.”
However, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, the chair of Senate Health and Welfare, says many of these additions are unlikely to remain. Ayer intends to call for a conference committee, where the bill will likely get pared back down to the version passed in the Senate.
“Basically in Senate Health and Welfare we stripped [S.200] down because the entire system is going to change in 2014, when we go into the insurance exchange. They’ll have specific and unified reporting requirements and that sort of thing. So to ask an insurance company to change all its forms for one year is just a waste of resources,” Ayer said.
“But there were a few things that we thought were really valuable in assessing health care, that would be useful information to the Green Mountain Care Board: about how we give care and what it’s used for, and what it costs, denial and that sort of thing. Those are things we put in that we thought were useful information.”
Health insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and MVP Healthcare appear to have taken a neutral stance on the change, saying that they already report on much of the information required in the bill.
Lee Tofferi, a lobbyist for BCBS, said the company was not against reporting claims, provided they could explain the reasons for most of them, like duplicate claims or clerical errors.
“What we want to make sure is that we have the ability when we submit the claims denial basis that we can also illustrate and illuminate more of the reasons for those denials,” Tofferi said. “Because there are interest groups out there that are trying to suggest we are denying claims just to avoid paying claims, when in fact most of the claims we deny are for legitimate reasons.”