Do you know that if you live in New York State, insurance companies don’t have to publicly disclose anything to you about why your insurance premiums are going up? New York State is so non-transparent that it’s big news when any of them agree to release anything.
So let me tell you about this big news: eight health insurers in New York State, with 90 percent of the market of small group and individual insurance plans, have now - gulp – formally ended their fight to keep secret documents showing why they want rate hikes. Now they say, “the filings were no longer due confidentiality under a ‘trade secrets’ exception to freedom of information laws.” (As the New York Times notes, “Some of the insurers have argued that disclosure would hurt their competitive position, and that the filings were too technical to be understood by consumers.” Kinda like how credit default swaps ended up costing you your job and your home. Too technical.)
Says Benjamin M. Lawsky, superintendent of the State Financial Services Department,
“Transparency will promote competition and allow the public to make effective comments as part of the rate review process. I applaud these companies for their decision and hope the remainder of the industry will soon see the light.” …
Elisabeth Benjamin, founder of Health Care for All New York, a consumer advocacy group that has long battled for disclosure, said New York’s experience would have a domino effect nationally. “Consumers in Maine had to go to court to get some of this stuff that we’re going to get now,” she said. “I think the industry is going to have to do this everywhere.”
Well wait a minute. This “trade secret” argument is what companies always use to keep information from the public. If New York health insurers are finally giving in, forget the other health insurance carriers. What about the rest of the insurance industry – in New York State? Their rate filings are all still secret.
Actually, it just so happens that yesterday, J. Robert Hunter, Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America (and former Federal Insurance Administrator and Texas Insurance Commissioner), noted in a statement before a New York State work group examining that other controversial health care insurance line – medical malpractice - that “the lack of transparency in this state is a serious problem and surely results in less patient safety.” He goes on to list several types of missing data, the release of which would benefit policyholders and policymakers alike. In fact, as we noted before, when Illinois forced out this data and better regulated rates, premiums for doctors dropped, competition among companies increased and new companies were able to enter the market.
Seems so smart. Wonder if those Occupy folks have noticed yet?