House panel OKs health insurance riders

A bill that would allow individuals to buy health insurance that won’t necessarily cover what ails them, got an initial nod from a House Commerce subcommittee Tuesday.

House Bill 264 would allow insurance companies to attach riders on a policy excluding coverage for a single pre-existing condition.

New Hampshire is one of the few states that don’t allow such riders, which are becoming increasing standard practice for those insurers that still underwrite individual policies.

Indeed – unbeknownst to the state Insurance Department — insurers have been offering these policies in the state ever since the practice was legalized for four months in 2003. Lawmakers had inadvertently outlawed the practice again in January 2004, and the department sent out a bulletin to the industry in November 2006 after discovering the practice, advising that that it was against state law.

Insurers said that riders give consumers a more affordable choice than trying to buy insurance in the assigned risk pool.

“My clients would lose their health insurance if they lost the option of a rider,” said Russell Monbleau, an independent agent from Nashua.

The insurance industry and business groups strongly testified in favor of riders, arguing that they are for relatively minor conditions, like allergies, and won’t put the insured at financial and medical risk.

When one representative, JP Wiesel – representing the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, an industry lobbying group – was asked about chronic conditions like diabetes, he said that it didn’t make sense for insurers to exclude such a wide-ranging chronic condition because so many related diseases would not be covered under the rider.

But Leslie Ludtke, a health policy analyst with the Insurance Department, said there was a filing for diabetes riding back in 2003, though she was not sure about subsequent riders, because insurers have not been filing them with the department, as they should be.

While not “enamored” by riders, the subcommittee’s chair, Stephen P. Spratt, D-Greenville, recommended that the panel support the bill, reasoning that some insurance is better than none at all. The rest of the subcommittee — including House Commerce Committee Chair Tara Reardon — also backed the bill, except for Rep. Susi Nord, D-Candia, who called riders “the ultimate form of cherry-picking” and that they were “inviting people to bankrupt themselves.” — BOB SANDERS

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