Advocates urge state insurance regulators to scrutinize mergers

With worries that the proposed mergers of major health insurance companies are going to be bad news for consumers, some are urging state insurance regulators to carefully scrutinize those plans.

Consumer advocates and antitrust experts want to see state regulators carefully examine the proposed mergers of major health insurance companies and use their authority to help protect patients, according to the New York Times.

David A. Balto, an antitrust lawyer and former federal regulator, has asked the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to create a working group to help regulators at the state level conduct their reviews, the Times reported. The proposed mergers of major health insurers Anthem and Cigna as well as Aetna and Humana have raised fears that they will result in fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.

"It is critical that the insurance commissioners act within their powers to carefully scrutinize these mergers," Balto said. 

The national association does not have the authority to block the mergers, but a working group could discuss issues that that will arise in the individual states and advise those state-level commissioners. State regulators could use their authority to seek such remedies as limits on rate increases, investments in rural care improvements or funding for low-income people, Balto said, a sentiment echoed by consumer advocacy group Health Access California. 

Balto previously outlined his opposition to the mergers in a guest post for Hospital Impact, arguing that they will be harmful to hospitals, other providers and patients. He is also working with consumer groups including a recently formed Coalition to Protect Patient Choice to lobby against the mergers.

Other groups have also voiced opposition to the mergers, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, which have sent letters to the Justice Department outlining their positions as well as testified at congressional hearings about the issue. 

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