Monday, December 10, 2012

The Lobbyist Feeding Frenzy Expands

The 12/5/2012 New York Times describes the accelerating lobbyist feeding frenzy in anticipation of new ObamaCare rules. In particular, lobbyists are working hard to have their particular pet items included in the state-level "essential health benefits" that all insurers must sell (and that consumers subject to the individual mandate will be forced to purchase).

From the article, "Interest Groups Push to Fill Margins of Health Coverage":
Most of the roughly two dozen states that have chosen their essential benefits — services that insurance will have to cover under the law — have decided to include chiropractic care in their package. Four states — California, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington — included acupuncture for treating pain, nausea and other ailments. It is also likely to be an essential benefit in Alaska and Nevada, according to the Department of Health and Human Services...

According to proposals that the states have submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services, insurance plans will have to cover weight-loss surgery in New York and California, for example, but not in Minnesota or Connecticut. Infertility treatment will be a required benefit in New Hampshire, but not in Arizona. 

Over all, the law requires that essential health benefits cover 10 broad categories, including emergency services, maternity and newborn care, hospitalization, preventive care and prescription drugs. But there is room for variation in those categories. Whether insurance will pay for hearing aids, foot care, speech therapy and various medications will vary significantly by state.
In other words, consumers will be compelled to purchase services they may neither need nor want, based on the political clout of special interest groups.  If a lobbying group can get the state government to compel coverage of their specific desired medical condition, it's like hitting the lottery,

This dynamic has already occurred in Massachusetts, under their system of mandatory insurance.  As a result, insurance costs have risen steeply for ordinary consumers.

To make matters worse, low-cost health plans without such mandatory benefits have been forbidden by the federal government:
Gov. Dave Heineman, Republican of Nebraska, chose an insurance plan with a high deductible as his state’s benchmark, reasoning that such lower-cost plans were popular in the state. But the Obama administration recently informed him that the plan did not meet the requirements of the law, he said.
We may or may not be able to stop the law from going into effect.  But as insurance costs go up, we must remember to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the government, and not unfairly blame the private sector.