Health insurance rate “symposium” bill clears Senate

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill that gives the attorney general and healthcare advocate authority to have the insurance commissioner call public “symposiums” on proposals to increase rates on health insurance policies by more than 10 percent. They could also require the insurance commissioner to call hearings on proposals to raise long-term care insurance rates.

The insurance commissioner has the authority to call public hearings at any time, but some lawmakers and consumer advocates believe that past insurance commissioners have not held enough hearings.

The bill, which now goes to the House, is a modified version of a proposal that would have required public hearings anytime an insurer requested a rate hike of more than 10 percent for health or long-term care insurance policies. That plan was projected to cost $2.245 million a year in hearing costs. The amended bill is projected to cost $181,800 a year if 15 symposiums are held, the maximum allowed per year under the bill.

Sen. Joseph J. Crisco Jr., D-Woodbridge, said requiring symposiums, rather than hearings, would exempt the process from some of the requirements and costs of hearings. He described the proposal as a balanced approach that would give people a chance to be heard.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the proposal was consistent with openness and transparency.

The Senate’s vote drew praise from Karen Schuessler, director of Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a group that has pushed for more public hearings. “It’s terrific,” she said. “The consumers won.”

Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said the new version of the bill is not much different from the old version, and warned that it “has the potential to really jeopardize the marketplace” by changing the way rate proposals are reviewed.

“It’s a major problem from our perspective,” he said.

Both Crisco and McKinney said they had not heard the insurance industry’s concerns until the past week.

“You just can’t come in last minute and say stop,” McKinney said.

Under the bill, the rate symposium process would begin in 2012 and end at the end of 2013.