Insurance industry pushing measure to stall maternity bill

A proposed bill that would institute a one-year moratorium on insurance mandates aims to wipe out a number of measures slated for next session, including legislation that would require Colorado insurance companies to cover maternity care and birth control.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, Independent
State Rep. Kathleen Curry, Independent

The moratorium is being proposed by the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters (CSAHU), according to CSAHU lobbyist Cindy Sovine-Miller. Although the health insurance industry group is still working to land Senate sponsors, Sovine-Miller said she expects Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican, and Kathleen Curry, a Western Slope Democrat-turned-Independent to carry the bill in the House.

In fact, insider blog Colorado Pols posted Tuesday that Curry had broken with her party over this very legislation, which it referred to as “a very nasty bill, crafted by the insurance industry.”

“Curry’s sponsorship was seen as improper bipartisan cover for Roberts on a bill with significant political import, and Roberts is likely to be a major front in the GOP’s strategy to recapture the state senate next year,” the poster wrote.

Sovine-Miller said she expected the bill to come early in the session, presumably to head off any mandate bills legislators intend to introduce.

“This bill is probably going to come right out of the gate. We really want to set the tone for the session,” she said.

According to Sovine-Miller, the bill aims to point out that requiring insurance companies to cover different health care needs unfairly puts “unfunded mandates” on small businesses instead of turning to other available resources to provide health services.

For example, she argued, a recently-passed mandate covering autism forces insurance companies to cover services that ought to be covered by school districts.

“Autism is not a physical body need,” she said. “It’s not even necessarily a mental-health need. It’s a whole range of things that require various physical therapies and health care therapies… Because the state education system can’t afford it, they’re pushing it off to the people who can.”

Sovine-Miller acknowledged that the proposed maternity mandate wouldn’t impact small businesses, since it only mandates maternity coverage on the individual market, but she argued that it would be an unfunded mandate on individuals.

The moratorium also aims to give insurers a chance to catch up with— and understand the implications of— any federal reform, she said. She acknowledged, however, that the moratorium would expire long before most federal health care reforms are expected to take effect in 2013.

In addition to a moratorium on mandates, the proposed bill would also provide at least 30 days to the Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits to determine how much mandates should cost. Right now, argued Sovine-Miller, the amount of time the commission has to determine the cost of a mandate varies, and it’s often not long enough.

In the place of reliable information from the commission, she argued, supporters of various mandates and costs present their own information.

“I think we’re all tired of what both sides are saying because we all know they’re all biased in their information,” she said.

Rep. K. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver, sponsor of the proposed maternity and birth control mandate, said he’s not worried about the proposed moratorium killing his bill.

“I think that if people are talking to their constituents, they’ll know that blockading a discussion is not right,” he said. “And blockading [health care] based on someone being a woman or a man is not right. And that’s what this is about. So if legislators talk to their constituents, they’ll come to the legislature with the knowledge that we need to deal with this and we need to deal with this now,” he said.

He also didn’t accept the argument that Colorado should adopt a “wait and see” attitude to federal reform.

“My argument is how long do we have to wait?” he said. “And how long have we waited on an issue that essentially is discriminating against women in Colorado? How long do we have to put this off?”

Colorado, like all states, is subject to federal mandates that require employer-based health plans for companies larger than 15 to cover birth control and maternity. But the Centennial State has no coverage mandates for maternity or birth control on the remaining markets. This situation has led to significant gaps in maternity and contraceptive coverage for Colorado women– particularly for those buying plans on the individual market.

Frangas’s bill would require Colorado health insurance companies issuing plans on the individual market to cover maternity in the same manner that they currently cover sickness or accidents. The bill would also require both individual and group policies to cover pregnancy management, including contraceptive counseling, drugs and devices. But the bill explicitly excludes abortion procedures and services from the definition of pregnancy management. If the bill passes, the mandates would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

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