Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has rejected another provision of the federal health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama, saying Alabama insurance regulators won’t enforce parts of the law aimed at protecting consumers.
Bentley wrote a letter to federal officials last month saying Washington, rather than state regulators in Montgomery, should be responsible for ensuring that insurance policies sold in Alabama comply with the federal law’s requirements such as covering people with pre-existing health conditions, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said the governor doesn’t believe state insurance officials have the authority to enforce the federal provisions. She said the cost of enforcement is also unclear.
“Also, it’s extremely difficult for Alabama to commit to enforcing something for which the federal government keeps changing the rules and regulations,” Ardis said. “Alabama will continue to regulate health insurance under the powers granted under state law.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Alabama is one of six states that have said they won’t help enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The others are Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
Bentley, a physician, has rejected other parts of the health law, such as setting up a state-run health insurance exchange or expanding Alabama’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income residents.
The consumer protections in the 2010 federal law prohibit insurance companies from imposing annual limits on benefits, crack down on unreasonable rate increases and allow young adults to keep receiving coverage under their parents’ insurance up to age 26.
Bentley’s decision means the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services in Washington will be responsible for making sure insurers in Alabama follow those rules.
“It is our strong preference that states continue to be the primary enforcers of the important consumer protections that are now federal law,” said Alicia Hartinger, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, though she added that “CMS will step in to enforce these protections when necessary.”
The Obama administration says it has made arrangements with many states to collaborate on enforcement. But Bentley’s March 14 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says nothing about Alabama collaborating with federal regulators.
“The state of Alabama will continue to enforce our … insurance code, and other state laws as they affect the business of insurance in this state,” Bentley wrote.
State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said the governor is wrong to leave consumer protection enforcement to Washington.
“Gov. Bentley seems more interested in standing in the schoolhouse door over federal health care than he is in helping the people of Alabama,” Bedford said, “which is sad, considering he’s a physician.”