Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto legislation his fellow Republicans advanced that suspends for two years the state’s authority to set health insurance rates.
Nelson, a former state insurance commissioner, said in a Wednesday letter to Scott that allowing the bill (SB 1842) to become law would put consumers at risk of sky-high rate hikes.
“To eliminate the Florida insurance commissioner’s authority to turn down rate increases is unbelievable and unconscionable.” Nelson wrote.
Nelson’s criticism echoes that raised during the session by legislative Democrats who said the legislation appeared designed to shield state regulators from any fallout stemming from the Affordable Care Act. Among them would be Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a Republican and former Senate president from North Palm Beach, whose office oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation.
Proponents of the legislation, however, said it is merely aimed at helping the state comply with evolving regulatory requirements under the federal health care overhaul.
Group or individual health plans in place in 2010 will still be subject to rate review by state regulators, under SB 1842. But the host of new coverage options expected to be created when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January will have rates controlled by federal agencies, although Atwater’s office will still review the proposals.
When the proposal was advanced in the Legislature, Republicans insisted they were not trying to shift blame for any problems that could rise from the influx of coverage plans and new companies.
They said that since the federal government has been imposing so many new regulations on the state, it made sense that federal officials do the rate-setting.
“This is not changing the consumer tradition of this state,” Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said at a House hearing last month. “But it is giving us
flexibility to understand a changing landscape.”
Democrats have been angered by the Republican-ruled Legislature’s long reluctance to enact provisions of the Affordable Care Act. They also said the new measure will give consumers the runaround in dealing with any issue with health insurance rates.
“We can do better for consumers,” said Rep. Jose Rodriquez, D-Miami, said during the April hearing.
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act continue to criticize the Legislature’s move.
“Senate Bill 1842 brings bad news for Florida consumers in at least two distinct ways: it deregulates health insurance at the state level, putting consumers at risk; and, it sets up ACA to be blamed for Florida’s irresponsibility,” said the Jupiter-based health advocacy group, FloridaCHAIN.
Scott has until June 5 to act on the legislation.