Published Saturday, January 12, 2013
By WALTER C. JONES
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens predicted Thursday that legislation would repeal all of the required health coverage that isn’t mandated by federal health reform, an issue that would likely lead to a heated battle in the General Assembly that convenes next week.
He also revealed that one of the Republicans’ answers to ObamaCare – cross-state insurance policies – hasn’t worked.
Democrats and advocates for women, the disabled and patients with chronic conditions have waged determined campaigns over the years to pass laws in Georgia that mandate specific health coverage such as mammograms and mental-health treatment. They’ve been opposed by employer groups like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce who argue the rising premiums needed to include such mandated coverage would limit money for hiring workers.
Georgia has 45 mandates, and some are more generous to consumers than the list of “essential health benefits” the federal law requires.
Hudgens made his prediction during a conference of health advocates hosted by Georgians for a Healthy Future based on his 14 years in the General Assembly before his election as commissioner in 2010.
“I fully expect to see a piece of legislation in effect this year that will conform Georgia’s mandates to that list of essential health benefits,” he said. “And the other mandates that we have in place now, I think they’ll go away.”
Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, expressed surprise after the conference about the possible repeal effort.
“I had not heard that before as something that would be coming out in the session,” she said.Whether her group or others make a attempt to stop the repeal may depend on its specifics, she said, since nothing is available four days before the legislature meets.
“It depends on the details,” she said.
During the long debate on health reform, Republicans like Hudgens have argued that a better alternative was to permit private insurance companies to sell policies nationally that had been designed for individual states where the regulations are less stringent. Hudgens helped pass a law in Georgia to allow it in 2011, becoming the first state to do so.
However, there haven’t been any takers, the commissioner said.
“It has had zero effect, and I’m a little bit perplexed by that,” he said.
Insurance insiders aren’t. They said at the time that, in addition to a state’s regulatory requirements, policy premiums are based on the cost of treatment where they are sold, which varies based on many factors like the preferences of doctors in the area, environmental impacts on health and even medical-malpractice awards in area courts.