Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Focus on Hotter Issues Dooms Insurance Bills

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Focus on Hotter Issues Dooms Insurance Bills

Article excerpt

Several insurance and health care bills that received a lot of attention early in the 1999 legislative session didn't survive in the end.

Bills that would require insurance companies to cover the cost of autism treatment and birth control did not make it past intense political opposition, while other less controversial bills, including rural hospital funding, sailed through.

Many of the bills were killed in the Senate -- although the House had its fair share -- because legislators got caught up in the debate on abortion, tort reform and school vouchers.

A ban on the sale of "industrial" life insurance policies in Florida did not make it out of the Senate, even though it had passed the House. Also called burial insurance, these policies generally are worth very little, and longtime policyholders often end up paying more in premiums than their survivors receive in benefits.

Besides banning the sale of the policies -- which haven't been sold in Florida for years -- the bill also would have required insurers to send policyholders balance statements showing how much they've paid, the cash value of the policy and the amount of death benefits.

"I am very disappointed," said Elsie Crowell, consumer advocate for the state Department of Insurance. "I thought the bill was providing minimum protection. I didn't think we were asking for a lot."

She said she may reintroduce the bill next year, but added that she needs to rethink strategy.

The insurance industry came out ahead on many bills. Measures requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of treating autism and mental illness and the expense of birth control also did not pass.

"We continually have to oppose mandated-benefits bills because of the costs," said Sam Miller, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council Inc. The more requirements insurance companies have to cover, he said, the more expensive insurance will become.

The insurance council did support a bill that allows women in an HMO to see an obstetrician/gynecologist once a year without receiving a referral from her primary care physician, he said. That bill passed.

"Looking at the threats [to the insurance industry] that were out there, we think we did well," Miller said.

Although a bill that would have restricted the insurance commissioner's ability to deny rate increases for individual health insurance policies did not pass, Miller said he thinks next year the Legislature will look at how the Florida Department of Insurance regulates the industry.

Florida has some of the most rigid insurance regulations in the country, he said.

But Pat Kemp, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, said she was glad the bill limiting Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson's power did not pass.

On the other hand, she was disappointed that legislators did not pass a patients' bill of rights for HMO policyholders. …

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