House OKs coverage for divorced spouses

With most of the attention focused on Wednesday’s legislative debate over education – whether it be amending the Constitution or raising the dropout age – lawmakers quietly pushed forward other legislation with an impact on business.

Perhaps the biggest changes have to do with health care and insurance.

Right out of the box, the House passed a bill that would require insurance companies to continue covering divorced spouses for three years after a marriage ends.

Supporters argued that there is no real cost involved since insurers had expected to pay for the coverage before the divorce. And spouses who had no alternative coverage would have to either pay very expensive individual coverage, or go uninsured.

“It’s better for business, better for divorced people going though a very difficult time of their lives,” said Rep. Stephen DeStefano, D-Bow.

Opponents said that it would be another mandate and cost insurance companies more, therefore increasing insurance premiums for family plans, which would result in employers either not offering it or contributing less to it.

“Small business can’t assume additional financial obligations in health care,” said Rep. James Martin, R- Sanbornville.

The House passed the bill, 227-122, and it will next be sent back to the Senate because of some minor changes.

The House also required that insurance companies pay for early intervention services for disabled children before school services kick in at age 3. While supporters said the measure would save costs in the long run, opponents, extrapolating from a fiscal note about the increased revenue the state would receive from greater premiums, estimated that it would cost employers some $19 million. The bill will next go directly to the governor for his signature.

Also, without debate, the House passed a bill that would increase penalties for unfair claim settlement practices by insurers. It increases the potential penalty tenfold, from $2,500 to $25,000. It also allows the insurance commissioner to order restitution to the aggrieved party, and it allows that party to waive restitution and go to court, although it does not allow the consumer to sue under the Consumer Protection Act.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill to the House that would get rid of mandatory overtime for nurses, except in certain situations. There is an exception, to mollify health-care providers, to allow nurses to agree mandatory overtime in a written contract, which they can back out of only if they give 14 days notice.
In other business, the House:

• Passed a bill that would lower the threshold that prompts an investigation into lead paint poisoning and require a landlord to replace the paint in every unit of a building that houses children.
• Passed a bill, long sought by the Department of Employment Security, to double the amount of money from the unemployment tax – to a fifth of a percent — primarily to help fund a job training program. Previously, about $2 million of that fund assisted over 150 companies – mostly small businesses – and some 5,000 workers. The Business & Industry Association supported the bill, which now goes to the governor for his signature.
• Passed a measure clarifying when a worker is an independent contractor, and another one that requires that employers show worker compensation compliance statements upon request to the public.
• Passed a workforce housing bill that distributes some $400,000 in grants to help communities plan for more affordable housing without creating sprawl.
• Passed a bill allowing the Business Finance Authority to offer intellectual property loans up to $250,000. — BOB SANDERS

Categories: News