Bills to Help Health Care Consumers Advance to Governor

CONCORD – Two Senate bills designed to protect health care consumers head to the governor after the Senate agreed yesterday to some changes made by the House.

Senate Bill 392 protects people without insurance from being charged substantially more for the same hospital services than people with insurance. It also calls for the state Department of Insurance to hold public hearings annually through 2014 to gather information from insurers and hospitals on factors contributing to increases and variations in costs for services across New Hampshire.

Senate Bill 455 enables the state Insurance Commissioner to guide the implementation of federal health reform in New Hampshire.

“It is important to have some control over this process and to fit the federal reforms within the framework of our existing consumer protections,” said Senator Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter), chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Consumer Protection Committee, which recommended the Senate agree to these provisions.

According to Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny, the legislation means New Hampshire consumers will be able to turn to the state for help and won’t be forced to call federal authorities.

The bill also sets up a five-member legislative oversight committee to provide input on the implementation of the initial wave of federal health reforms, such as the elimination of lifetime caps on benefits and an end to using pre-existing conditions as a reason to reject children from insurance coverage.

In addition to preserving the state’s regulatory authority, the legislation authorizes the state to set up a federally-funded high risk pool to operate alongside the state’s own high risk pool. It also adapts the existing state law that allows children up to age 26 to remain on their family insurance policies so state law dovetails with the new federal law calling for the same.