A House Divided over Agent Commissions
November 28, 2011 by Elizabeth Festa
November 23, 2011
The NAIC doesn’t lobby in Washington, but a divisive action this week makes it look to some state insurance regulators as if it is doing just that. According to some key state regulators in a recent conference call, the NAIC is making a key healthcare reform issue a political football, while damaging its reputation before federal agencies and Congress, and hurting consumers.
Both during and after a landmark vote of state insurance regulators Tuesday evening by telephone to get both the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress to change the federal health care law for insurance agents and producers and their customers, many regulators took offense not only at the content of the resolution but the process that conceived it. Many from influential insurance states like California, Kansas, Connecticut and New York argued unsuccessfully that voting on a resolution for agent commissions would damage the NAIC’s reputation in Washington at a critical time of implementing federal laws through the states.
The NAIC voted 26-20 to urge HHS and Congress to change the medical loss ratio calculations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in order to better provide commissions for insurance agents. (For a copy of the NAIC’s resolution, click here.) This would be done by recognizing a certain amount of compensation as a sunken health care cost, not an administrative (overhead) cost – PPACA’s MLR provision requiresat least 80% of all health insurance premiums go toward medical costs, leaving just 20% for administrative costs, which include agent commissions. The NAIC’s call to modify the MLR would also call for holding off on enforcing the MLR, or approving state MLR adjustment requests.
Consumer protection provisions in the Affordable Care Act – the medical loss ratio (MLR) requirement that 80% of every premium dollar go into providing health care in the individual and small group markets and 85% in the large group market.
For some state regulators, it was a small business issue, for others an access to care issue which made them support the resolution. One commissioner, North Carolina’s Wayne Goodwin, gave the resolution “prayerful consideration” before going forward to support it, he said.
But a strong and sometimes vocal minority wanted no part of it.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expressed strong opposition to and disappointment with today’s narrowly divided (phone call) vote throughout the call late Tuesday.
“Consumers are ill-served by the proposal to lower the percentage of premiums that insurers are now required to put into medical care versus profits and overhead,” Jones stated. The net result of the resolution, according to Jones, would be to reduce consumer rebates by over $1.1 billion.
“I have been contacted by consumer organizations and thousands of individuals who have asked me to vote against this resolution. This resolution calls for actions that would allow insurers to spend more money on administrative costs and profits, while charging consumers higher premiums.”
He also strongly questioned the process, echoing another commissioner who said the resolution seemed to come out of thin air.
“The specific resolution in question was never heard by an NAIC Committee, nor was there a public hearing on the resolution. It was first circulated secretly to only some commissioners as opposed to all of us. The lack of transparency, the failure to follow a process that would include committee review and a public hearing, the willful disregard of the evidence – all undermine the credibility of the NAIC’s vote today,” Jones stated.