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Advocates Take Complaints To Sebelius

by Christine Stuart | Dec 1, 2011 12:51pm
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Posted to: Health Care

Christine Stuart file photo

Advocates last month protesting the Exchange Board outside its meeting

Advocates refused to give up their fight against the composition of the state’s Health Insurance Exchange Board and took that fight to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Wednesday.

Kevin Galvin, president of Small Business for a Healthy Connecticut and owner of Connecticut Commercial Maintenance, asked Sebelius Wednesday to step in and correct the composition of the Connecticut Insurance Exchange Board, which he believes includes an “over-representation by insurance industry” and an “under-representation by individual and small business consumers.”

Galvin is just one of dozens of advocates who have objected to the lack of small business and consumer representation on the board and have appealed to legislative leaders and the governor’s office, without success, to replace those members or add consumer and small business members. The Connecticut Insurance Exchange Board will set up and run the state’s health insurance exchange where individuals and employers will be required to purchase insurance under the federal health reform law in 2014.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said she’s confident that the board will “offer quality insurance coverage at a price that is fair to consumers, medical providers and insurers.”

“Any claim of bias toward insurers is unfounded and unsubstantiated and not based on any action of any member of the Exchange,” Wyman added in a statement Wednesday.

But Galvin and advocates continue to contend that the current composition of the board will create “highly priced insurance products with limited coverage.”

“Further, we believe the current board membership could invite legal challenges from consumers and small businesses, or from insurers whose companies are not represented in the background of board members and whose applications are rejected,” he wrote.

But the Department of Health and Human Services gave the state wide discretion when creating its board.

“To ensure Exchanges represent the interests of consumers and small businesses, we have proposed that the governing board must represent consumer interests and that the voting majority cannot be made up of representatives of health insurance issuers, agents, or brokers, or any other individual licensed to sell health insurance,“ Bennett Blodgett, a spokesman with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Wednesday.

The federal government has accepted public comment on the makeup of the exchanges and is certain the final rule will reflect this input, he added.

However, Connecticut advocates continued to press the issue.

“When the Connecticut General Assembly met earlier this year to approve legislation establishing the exchange, consumer and small business advocates were successful in convincing lawmakers to include strong conflict of interest language,“ Galvin wrote. “As a result of advocate efforts, Connecticut Public Act 11-53 specifically excludes membership on the state’s Health Insurance Exchange Board by any individual ‘affiliated with’ an insurance company.”

Advocates contend that three members of the 11-member board conflict with that requirement. They said insurance industry influence of the three members, all former insurance executives or high level officials, violates the spirit and the letter of state and federal laws creating the exchange, and jeopardizes the success of the exchange.

Christine Stuart file photo

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman

But their constant complaints are beginning to get on the nerves of board members who are trying to hire a chief executive officer and set up the structure for Connecticut’s exchange, which needs to be off the ground before 2014.

“What this group is suggesting would do nothing less than undermine the progress Connecticut has made in becoming one of the states in the forefront of implementing this historic and much-needed reform,” Wyman said.

She repeated her previous statement that the “Exchange was created through legislation. Anyone wishing to pursue adding or changing members should do so through the legislative process.”

Last month protesters stood outside the Exchange Board meeting with Band-Aids over their mouths demonstrating how their voices were silenced by the board’s composition.

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