Insurance department: Revised rate review bill unnecessary

A controversial bill requiring public hearings when insurers seek to raise health insurance premiums by more than 10 percent passed the Senate unanimously Monday after being revised significantly. But Insurance Commissioner Thomas B. Leonardi still sees it as an “unnecessary mandate,” his spokeswoman said.

“We just don’t think the legislation is necessary,” Connecticut Insurance Department spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo said.

The bill, which is awaiting action in the House, would give the attorney general and healthcare advocate authority to compel Leonardi to call a “symposium”–not a public hearing–if an insurer seeks to raise health insurance premiums by more than 10 percent, or if a carrier seeks to raise rates on long-term care insurance policies. The insurance commissioner would not be required to hold more than 10 symposiums on health insurance rate hikes and five on long-term care insurance proposals per year.

The insurance commissioner already has authority to call a public hearing at any time, but Leonardi’s predecessor, Thomas R. Sullivan, drew criticism from consumer advocates and some lawmakers for not holding enough hearings. Leonardi, who became commissioner in March, has said that there will be times when the political climate makes it wise to hold a public hearing, but that consumers can weigh in on rate proposals through the department’s website or by fax or telephone.

Supporters of the bill were not optimistic about its chances until the Senate approved the amended version Monday. The insurance industry opposes it. It’s not clear whether the House will take it up before its midnight deadline.

Tommelleo said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recognized Connecticut’s existing rate review process as an effective model, and she noted that it already gives consumers the ability to comment on rate filings.

“The process in place is based on unbiased and actuarially sound information,” she said.