Insurers hope newly-elected Republicans ease their burdens

Now that the midterm elections are over and Republicans have taken control of the House, health insurers are lobbying to help shape the new GOP healthcare agenda, the Wall Street Journal reports.

More ambitious goals sought by some lawmakers, such as completely overturning the health reform law, probably will remain out of reach for Republicans because President Obama still wields veto power and Democrats retained control of the Senate. The increase of Republican seats in the House, however, could force Democrats to vote on whether to defend the most controversial parts of the law, such as requiring insurance for all Americans, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, the industry is working to persuade the next Congress to roll back a roughly $70 billion tax on insurance companies that takes effect in 2014 and widen the rating bands that dictate how much more insurers can charge older customers. Health plans also want to enact a new measure providing robust protections against medical malpractice lawsuits to doctors who follow certain "best practice" guidelines, AHIP President Karen Ignagni told the WSJ. She added that AHIP will be most focused on parts of the health reform bill it believes fail to lower the growth of health costs. "We look forward to working with both parties to minimize the coverage disruptions caused by the new law and to make healthcare more affordable for working families and small businesses," Robert Zirkelbach, AHIP press secretary, told FierceHealthPayer.

State election results also can affect insurers since Republicans won many governor races across the country. The reform law calls for states to work with the federal government to establish ways to review what are deemed "unreasonable" premium increases, but it is up to the states to decide what to do about such increases. State lawmakers must decide whether to boost their insurance commissioner's authority to reject premium increases or leave current law in place. Sandy Praeger, the Kansas insurance commissioner, expects there will be pressure from the public--and the federal government--to increase such authority. "Republicans tend to be less regulatory minded, so it may be more difficult in those states to get that additional rate-approval authority," she told Kaiser Health News.

Republican-led states may also seek exemptions from the medical-loss ratio requirements if they fear that meeting them could cause severe disruptions in the market for individual coverage. Maine, which is served by very few insurers, has already said it would seek an exemption and more states are expected to follow, according to KHN.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News story
- see the Bloomberg piece
- read the Wall Street Journal article