Insurance rate review bill passes, but will Malloy sign it?

A proposal to give the attorney general and healthcare advocate authority to order public “symposiums” on requests to raise health and long-term care insurance rates won final legislative approval Wednesday, but it’s not clear whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will sign it.

Malloy’s insurance commissioner, Thomas B. Leonardi, considers the bill an unnecessary mandate. Asked whether Malloy will sign the bill, spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said, “The Governor will review the issue and make a decision at that point.”

The bill would allow the healthcare advocates or attorney general to require the insurance commissioner to call a public symposium on any requests to raise health insurance premiums by more than 10 percent or to raise long-term care insurance rates. The bill would also define “excessive,” one criteria for denying a rate request, and require the commissioner to consider public input when evaluating requests to raise premiums.

It passed the House 131 to 14 Wednesday. The Senate passed it unanimously Monday. The bill is an amended version of an earlier proposal that would have required public hearings on any requests to raise health insurance rates by more than 10 percent.

Consumer advocates say the proposal will give the public a voice in decisions about rate hikes, while the insurance industry has warned that it could jeopardize the marketplace by changing the standards for reviewing rate requests.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a former state healthcare advocate, praised lawmakers and urged Malloy to sign the bill. “Consumers deserve a voice and level playing when the Department of Insurance reviews rate increases that will significantly impact their lives,” he said in a statement. “This measure–requiring public forums for rate increases of 10 percent or more–recognizes the critical balance between protecting the interests of both businesses and consumers.”

The insurance commissioner can call a public hearing on any proposed rate increase, but consumer advocates and some lawmakers say past commissioners have not held enough hearings.