Senate links several health insurance proposals

Senators could vote on the package as early as Thursday.

There’s a health-insurance “train” in the making in the Florida Senate.

The Senate on Wednesday agreed to tee up for passage a bill that, as initially filed, called for creating protections for hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have pre-existing conditions and could be shut out of the insurance market if the federal health care law commonly referred to as “Obamacare” is repealed.

Before preparing the bill (SB 322) for a vote, the Senate added an amendment that rolled into it two other health insurance proposals (SB 418 and SB 1422). In the legislative world, linking various bills in a single measure is known as a train.

Senators could vote on the package as early as Thursday.

The underlying bill would require insurers and health maintenance organization to offer at least one policy that does not exclude, limit, deny or delay coverage due to one or more pre-existing medical conditions. The requirement would take effect if the federal law is repealed or struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill does not require that the plans be affordable.

The amendment added Wednesday would substantially broaden the measure with changes that would take effect even if the federal health law remains intact.

Part of the amendment, incorporating language from SB 1422, would allow insurers and HMOs to take advantage of a rule issued by the Trump administration that allows for the sale of short-term limited policies and the establishment of so-called “association health plans.”

Short-term limited policies aren’t required to include the essential health benefits that the federal health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, requires.

Association health plans, meanwhile, allow small businesses, including self-employed workers, to band together by geography or industry to obtain coverage as if they were single large employers.

The amendment Wednesday also included the substance of SB 418, which would authorize the Office of Insurance Regulation to conduct a study on the essential health benefits included in health plans sold to Floridians.

The Trump administration has issued rules that allow the state to alter the essential health benefits beginning in 2020. The bill, if passed, would begin that process.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, required insurance plans to include health coverage in 10 broad areas such as ambulatory care; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorders; prescription drugs; and laboratory services.

Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to also amend the measure to allow adults between the ages of 19 and 65 to enroll in the statewide Medicaid managed care program if they have incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The amendment was opposed by bill sponsor Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who argued that it would cost “billions of dollars to implement.”

The bill is supported by the health insurance industry.

“We support providing consumers with coverage choices, and (those) consumers want affordable options that fit their health care needs,” Florida Association of Health Plans President and CEO Audrey Brown said in a statement to The News Service of Florida.

Material republished with permission from The News Service of Florida.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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