Finally, some good news with the Massachusetts insurance price-control saga: an appeals board of attorneys from the state’s Division of Insurance has overturned Governor Deval Patrick’s denial of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s requested rate increases. The Boston Globe reports that the “panel…found that rate increases Harvard Pilgrim initially sought in April are reasonable given what it must pay to hospitals and doctors.”
Insurers yesterday cheered the ruling, which bodes well for three other companies now before the appeals board with their own cases against capped rates.The other insurers in the state can hold out hope that the appeals board will give them the same treatment, saving them several months of uncertainty and litigation.
“The decision shows what we have been saying all along,” said Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a trade group based in Boston. “The denial of carrier rates was inappropriate.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, it didn’t take long for the Obama administration to try Deval Patrick’s tactics on for size. Everyone knows that insurers across the country are going to have to raise premiums in order to account for all of the new mandates in the Affordable Care Act. But the President is trying to have his cake and eat it too, warning insurers that the government will not allow “unreasonable premium increases.” He would doubtless cheer on the implosion of the private health insurance business, but consumers would not.
Both in Massachusetts and across the nation, genuine attempts at reducing the cost of health insurance will require a completely different approach to health care reform: one that incentivizes patients to make prudent choices about health spending, and one that frees insurers from the mandates that prevent them from creating affordable insurance products.
Too many Republicans are formulating their health care positions by melding a general free-market disposition with a split-the-difference political posture. These Republicans need to understand that the desire to repeal Obamacare is neither a temper-tantrum nor an ideological litmus test. Rather, as a policy matter, repeal is critical to the economic fortunes of tens of millions of Americans, for whom affordable health insurance is increasingly out of reach.