Bill seeks to curb flight to individual health policies

It doesn’t look like Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Hampshire will be able to convince lawmakers to stop healthy employees from fleeing their group plan at work for a more affordable individual policy.Some 2,500 “lives” left the group market in the last 12 months of last year, often with an employer’s encouragement, Denise McDonough, vice president of sales at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Hampshire, told the House Commerce Committee’s insurance subcommittee Tuesday. Indeed, sometimes the employer would pay the worker to leave the group plan by raising their pay, even throwing in the tax on those additional wages. That’s because the individual rates for healthy employees is so much lower.”They know that it’s legal, and until it is not, they will continue it,” said McDonough.It became legal in 2005. At that time, lawmakers were trying to encourage movement in the individual market to keep it alive for those who don’t have access to the group market. But the group market rates have risen so high that in the last few years individual policies have become an attractive alternative.Anthem, which writes both policies, collects the premiums either way, but the concern is the viability of the group market, which is getting sicker and older as the exodus continues, the company said.That drives costs up and eventually rates go up for everybody else, causing even younger individuals to flee.House Bill 96 would prevent that from happening. Under the bill, those with access to the group market couldn’t obtain individual policies.But that would mean that some individuals would be getting a letter in the mail saying they could no longer use the non-group option.”It’s a hard sell,” said Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, who chairs the House Commerce Committee. “How are you going to explain depriving someone of the opportunity?”But all this might be moot as federal health care reform kicks in, said Hunt, who claimed that a lot of smaller employers will stop providing health insurance.In the end, the subcommittee voted to kill the bill, a recommendation that probably be accepted the committee and the full House. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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