New Hampshire small businesses looking for relief from rising health insurance costs now have proposed changes approved by both the House and the Senate.
The House this week approved a plan that would stop insurers from considering a business’ location or the health of its workers in setting rates. Insurance companies still would be able to consider workers’ ages and their industries.
For potentially very expensive cases, insurers could pass certain workers into a reinsurance pool, which would be paid for with an assessment on all policyholders.
Under this plan, workers no longer would be required to fill out health forms before premiums are set. Forms would be filled out after policies were written so insurers could identify high risk workers for the reinsurance pool.
The plan is almost identical to one approved by the Senate last week. That bill has the support of Gov. John Lynch, who was eager to overturn some of the changes that had been implemented the year before.
That law allowed insurance companies to look at worker health and business location in setting premiums. This drove up costs for many small businesses, especially those with older or sicker workers and those in areas where health care costs are higher, such as the Seacoast.
Lynch ran for governor on a platform that called for changes to that law, which covers businesses with up to 50 workers.
Hampton Rep. Sheila Francoeur, who led the committee that proposed the changes, said the bill would bring stability to an insurance market that’s fallen into chaos.
Rep. Michael Whalley opposed the bill, saying the Legislature wasn’t giving the existing law a chance to work. The bill had been adopted to encourage more companies to offer policies in New Hampshire and reduce rates through competition.
“I don’t think we’ve given this enough time,” Whalley said.
Rindge Rep. John Hunt warned that competition will vanish as a result of these changes. “There’s no competition because you took out the medical underwriting,” he said.
Others criticized the reinsurance pool as creating a new tax on small businesses to pay for the high risk cases.
The change doesn’t solve the problem, Rep. Rodgers Johnson complained. “It supersizes it,” he said.
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