What Montana doesn’t know about insurance can hurt us

2013-03-11T08:15:00Z What Montana doesn’t know about insurance can hurt usGuest column by MONICA J. LINDEEN missoulian.com
March 11, 2013 8:15 am  • 

Recently, elected officials in Helena did what Montanans expect of us: We put our differences aside to save a program that helps hundreds of small businesses provide affordable health insurance for more than 8,000 Montanans.

Saving the Insure Montana program was a joint effort of my office, Gov. Steve Bullock and Democrats and Republicans in the Montana legislature. Just like you, we want progress – not fighting – and we know nobody wins if Montanans lose.

Talk to the small-business owners and employees who are covered through Insure Montana and they’ll tell you that the program – administered by my office – is a vital part of making sure all Montanans have access to affordable health insurance.

But it’s not the only part.

Lawmakers in Helena have another project before them – and this one will take the same bipartisan cooperation to do what’s right: They need to pass health insurance rate review.

You’ve probably never heard of something called “rate review,” but if you have health insurance in Montana, you could be paying a higher premium for the lack of it.

When an auto insurance company wants to increase the amount of money Montanans pay for their products, my office gets to examine their reasons and make sure the increase is needed. That’s rate review. We have this authority over homeowner’s, auto, RV, boat and nearly every other type of insurance – except health insurance, where the cost is most out of control.

Montana and Missouri are the only states in the country with no health insurance rate review. With all due respect to the Show-Me State, do we really want to share a bus seat with Missouri on the road to higher health insurance costs?

I’m not talking about a hypothetical problem. Recently, one national insurance company wanted to raise its rates by double digits across the country, including for customers in South Dakota and Montana. The South Dakota insurance commissioner has rate review authority. He found the increase unwarranted and worked with the company to lower them.

My office doesn’t have that authority. Those increases hit Montana with no questions asked. People all across Montana – maybe even you – are paying more for no good reason.

Insurance companies have lots of experts working for them. And, Montana, you’ve got insurance experts working for you, too. They are the people in my office who find and correct unwarranted rate increases in other types of insurance. But in the arena where we need it most, Montana’s insurance experts aren’t allowed to put their expertise to work for you.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

The good news is our rate review bill has already passed the Montana House with strong bipartisan support. Rep. Jeff Wellborn, a Republican from Dillon, is sponsoring the bill – House Bill 87. He’s done a great job explaining to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle why rate review has been a long time coming.

The bill is now in the hands of the Montana Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll see more of the same: Lawmakers working together to protect Montana families, small businesses and your wallet.

Monica J. Lindeen is Montana’s Commissioner of Insurance.

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