We made a difference

Health care advocates from across North Carolina filled the gallery this morning when the NC House Health and Human Services Committee met to consider House Bill 115, a bill that would hand over the control of the state’s health insurance exchange to the insurance companies and their allies.

They had a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights look as they saw the gallery filled to overflowing. There wasn’t even any standing room.

As of late last week, the plan was to push H115 through to the House Insurance Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Jerry Dockham, the insurance broker who introduced it.

But we advocates got the word out about the bill, despite the reluctance of most of the state’s media to pay any attention to it, and filled the gallery. Without saying a word, we let them know the word is out and we will fight them on this.

The bill that was supposed to create the health exchange was being drafted by a diverse panel of experts including health care providers, advocates, consumers, physicans and more. The group was put together by the NC Institute of Medicine, and it met several times to turn a suggested federal bill into a framework that would work for the protection and benefit of people of North Carolina.

But the insurance companies wanted control. They wanted to be able to “pre-authorize the expensive diagnostic tests that drive up health care costs.”  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

Wrong. Last year, they forced my husband to wait two days for a nuclear stress test after a bad EKG, very nearly killing him.

They wanted to be able to “offer consumers a wide variety of plans from which to choose.”

Like the catostrophic plan a friend of mine chose with a $10,000 deductible. When she developed breast cancer, she was told her chemotherapy wouldn’t be covered because it was outpatient.

What they want is to be able to confuse people into buying something that covers little more than the insurance company’s butt.

Then they asked for a voting seat on the board of directors, and nearly everyone at the meeting said it would be a clear conflict of interest. A couple weeks later, H115 appeared, before the Institute of Medicine panel could finish its work, giving seven of the 11 seats to insurance companies, brokers and their allies, all of whom opposed reform.

This morning, committee chair, Rep. Bill Current (R-Gastonia), said he didn’t even know “why we’re bothering with this since Obamacare is unconstitutional anyway.”

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin told him it’s a good idea “just in case,” because if the Affordable Care Act isn’t unconstitutional, and North Carolina doesn’t have an exchange, the federal government would operate the exchange. Then he went on to make some proposals from what the IOM panel has worked on:

  • A seven-member board composed of people with technical expertise and no financial interest in the exchange. The board would be complemented by five advisory committees that would include insurance companies and consumers.
  • Compliance with open records and open meeting laws, something H115 lacks.

The committee decided to meet again to discuss the insurance exchange in two weeks, which gives advocates two more weeks to get the word out that health reform in North Carolina is in danger of being subverted by big business and big greed.

If we don’t stop the takeover here in North Carolina, other states will follow suit. If we do stop it, big insurance will be on notice that we’re watching and we intend to put a stop to their efforts.

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