HHS Awards $1 Million Grants To State Insurance Regulators

The Los Angeles Times: "The Obama administration is sending $1-million grants to state insurance regulators to help increase oversight of rising health insurance premiums, a key step in implementing the new healthcare law. The grants announced Monday, which went to all but five states, will enable many to expand public access to information about rate hikes and to hire experts to review what insurers want to charge. More than a dozen states also plan to seek additional authority to block insurance premium increases they deem unjustified. ... Fewer than half of state insurance commissioners have comprehensive 'prior approval' authority, which gives them the power to review insurance company records and stop proposed rate increases in the individual and small-group markets. Some states do not even require insurers to publicly report proposed rate hikes" (Levey, 8/17).

The Washington Post: The grants reflect the diversity of insurance practices across states. "For instance, Maryland, which already has one of the most robust regulatory systems in the nation, will be using the extra funding to hire consultants to investigate what further data should be requested from insurers. By contrast, 15 states and the District of Columbia will be pursuing additional legislative authority to expand their purview, in some cases as far as requiring pre-approval of proposed rate increases. (Details of how each state plans to use its grant are available at www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/rateschart.html)" (Aizenman, 8/16).

The Hill: "The awards are the first phase of a five-year, $250 million provision in the healthcare reform law and will enable states to strengthen their overview of insurance rates, make more rate information publicly available, purchase new technology and hire additional technical staff to review the rates. … Democrats immediately praised the announcement. … Currently, only 26 states and the District of Columbia have the authority to reject a proposed increase that is 'excessive, lacks justification or otherwise exceeds state standards,' according to HHS. Only five states -- Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wyoming -- did not apply for grants" (Pecquet, 8/16).

The Associated Press/The Boston Globe: "Health insurance premium increases will get a harder look in Massachusetts and most parts of the country, thanks to an infusion of federal cash for state regulators. … [Massachusetts] officials had said they would use the money to increase the number of insurers that would be subject to state review. The state currently reviews rate increases proposed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, HMOs, and insurers in the small group market" (8/17).

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