Note: this piece originally ran two years ago, but has been getting renewed attention in light of the expected increases in Obamacare premiums. It is just as accurate today and provides valuable context to the ongoing discussion.
By Bill Nelson
The state is not doing its job to protect consumers from health insurance rate hikes. After passing up billions of dollars from the federal government for the state to expand Medicaid, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature callously enacted a new law that, in essence, prevents the state’s insurance commissioner from regulating health insurance rates.
The law, which state lawmakers passed and the governor signed, stripped the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation of an important responsibility: the authority to approve, modify or reject rate hikes by health insurance companies.
I call it a callous decision, in part, because now the governor and some of those same legislators are poised to blame Obamacare for the coming rate increases.
Florida once had some of the strongest state laws governing insurance. Now — as a result of the new state law — the commissioner is little more than a rubber stamp on health insurance rates.
When the Legislature passed this bill, I wrote to the governor and asked him to veto it. He did not.
Meantime, other states preserved their ability to regulate the cost of insurance. In Connecticut, for example, the two insurers in that state’s health insurance exchange proposed double-digit increases for the coming year. One insurer had its rate request rejected, while the other was allowed only a 3 percent bump.
That’s why I am so disappointed when I read news accounts that say Republicans now intend to blame potential health insurance rate increases in Florida and elsewhere on Obamacare.
If the governor and the Republic-controlled Legislature want someone to blame, they need look no further than the mirror.
They refused to accept some $51 billion to expand Medicaid. They passed onerous requirements on Obamacare navigators to try to keep them from helping Floridians find and purchase affordable coverage. And they passed the law shackling the insurance regulator on rates.
According to recent reports, these premium increases are expected to be a key talking point for Republicans in Florida and beyond as they hope to retake the U.S. Senate.
It all strikes me as an unconscionable deception for which the people pay.
Bill Nelson is Florida’s senior senator, serving since 2001. He served as Florida’s insurance commissioner from 1995 to 2001.