Casorio will introduce legislation to create advocate for health insurance consumers
HARRISBURG, Sept. 17 – State Rep. James E. Casorio Jr., D-Westmoreland, said he plans to formally introduce legislation next week that would create an Office of Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance within the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
“With the cost of health insurance continuing to rise and the changes that will take place over the next four years as federal health-care reform takes effect, the people of Pennsylvania need a strong, independent advocate that has the authority to protect their interests and keep them informed in matters of health insurance,” Casorio said. “There is no better time than now to create this advocate for Pennsylvania’s health insurance consumers.”
Casorio said his legislation (H.B. 2735) would create a state-level advocate for health insurance consumers similar to the Consumer Advocate within the Public Utility Commission. The Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance would represent consumers’ interests on any insurance matter before the courts or any state department or agency. The advocate also would be responsible for identifying and tracking trends in the health insurance industry, recommending consumer protections, responding to consumer complaints, and educating state residents about health insurance issues and practices.
“The consumer advocate within the PUC ensures that utility customers have an equal place at the table when utility companies petition for a rate increase or take other actions that impact ratepayers,” Casorio said. “The people of Pennsylvania need the same seat at the table with regard to health insurance.”
Casorio said now is an optimal time to create a Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department recently awarded the Pennsylvania Insurance Department $1 million in funding to enhance the department’s current oversight of the health insurance industry in Pennsylvania, and the department is continuing to pursue other funding opportunities to enhance its consumer assistance and education efforts.
“The federal money means that we can set up a Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance that doesn’t rely on the insurance industry for funding,” Casorio said. “That’s important for ensuring that this office represents the people of Pennsylvania, not the insurance companies.”
Creating a Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance now is also important for other reasons, Casorio said. In July, the state insurance commissioner reported that current industry practices could price many small businesses out of the insurance market before federal reform takes place in 2014, making it much harder to bring these businesses back into the market without disruption.
In addition, a Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance would help educate and inform the public about Pennsylvania’s recently created insurance program for high-risk residents and other programs and health insurance changes that will be occurring between now and 2014.
“The medical and financial health of many Pennsylvanians – and the economic health of many businesses in the state – will be impacted by federal health reform,” Casorio said. “A Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance will be well-positioned to ensure that Pennsylvania makes this transition smoothly and that Pennsylvania residents and businesses are well-informed every step of the way.”
Under the bill, the Consumer Advocate for Health Insurance would be appointed by the governor for a term of six years, with a two-term limit.
Once the bill is introduced, Casorio said he expects it to be referred to the House Insurance Committee, where Chairman Tony DeLuca has promised quick consideration.