Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Editorial: Blue Cross reform should wait until '09

by The Flint Journal
Sunday December 07, 2008, 6:00 AM

All good things in time. If you believe that adage, then you have to believe good legislation on the issue of individual health insurance will require more time than the Legislature has between now and the end of the year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been pushing hard for lawmakers to approve changes in the way the state regulates health insurance that people have to buy individually because they don't have coverage through an employer.

That attempt is meeting opposition, particularly from state Attorney General Mike Cox, who says the proposed changes would hurt consumers and give Blue Cross an unfair advantage over its competitors.

The battle between Cox and the Blues has gotten a little nasty. That's unfortunate, because this highly complex issue can be resolved only with measured debate, not with the snide attacks that both sides have launched at times.

That aside, Cox is arguing that the lame-duck session doesn't allow enough time or the right climate of deliberation to deal responsibly with the issue. On that much he is right.

The state House erred when it passed a reform package that some lawmakers later admitted didn't get the consideration it needed. The Senate approved a more-thoughtful package, but differences between the two haven't been reconciled.

Blue Cross now wants action. We understand the insurer's desire for reform. It recently announced that in the first nine months of 2008, it lost $111 million on individual policies.

As the number of people seeking them grows, those losses will only mount.
The attorney general argues that Blue Cross remains financially sound, but the insurer faces long-term losses that would jeopardize its financial health in ways Cox isn't acknowledging.

Under state regulations, Blue Cross receives special tax benefits and in turn has a special responsibility to the public. It deserves reasonable reforms, but the attorney general's oversight should be preserved in a meaningful way.

In November, a compromise proposal became public, but we don't see how lawmakers can responsibly review such a complex plan in a short lame-duck session, nor do we think the issue should be decided by 46 House members who are leaving office and don't have to answer to voters for something rushed too quickly through the legislative process.

This issue is too complex, and there's too much at stake.

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