JUA surplus belongs to N.H.

We state the obvious here: State lawmakers are elected to work for the benefit of their constituents and the state as a whole.

It helps to be reminded of this when we look at the state Legislature’s creation of the Joint Underwriting Association. Back in 1974, this fund gave our doctors access to an affordable, viable malpractice insurance product when their ability to continue to practice medicine in New Hampshire was at risk because of a lack of options in the private sector.

The Legislature acted to protect our citizens’ access to health care. The private sector was not meeting the needs of our doctors or their patients at this time. Addressing the problem was a public policy objective of the highest order.

Such policy action is not unusual or unique. More recently, the Legislature acted to create a more affordable health insurance product for small businesses. The goal of New Hampshire HealthFirst is to support a critical area of our economy — small businesses — and allow them to continue to provide health insurance for their employees.

The New Hampshire Legislature acted carefully in both the creation of the JUA and in the creation of HealthFirst to maintain competition within the insurance market. Other private sector insurance products remain available both to doctors and to small businesses. The state simply opened up a new option when other options were in short supply.

In the case of the JUA, this state-sponsored program has been a great success. It has provided good coverage at competitive, market rates to our doctors for decades. It was financially successful in large part because, as a state entity, it is exempt from federal corporate income tax as well as state insurance and state business taxes.

Credit also goes to the JUA for efficient administration and good claims management. This surplus is not an indication, as some have claimed, that JUA policyholders were overcharged. And while the door was left open, on a discretionary basis, to paying doctors a dividend from surplus, it is not the only — or the best — use of those excess JUA funds.

The Legislature is in the business of serving the public good. Right now, we have hundreds of thousands of people out of work and the demand for services through Medicaid and other human service programs keeps climbing. The state has an obligation to cover its share of Medicaid, and reallocating the JUA funds will allow us to do so over the course of this difficult biennium.

So let’s look back at the role of the Legislature and its goals in creating the JUA — to preserve access to health care by providing doctors with a more affordable malpractice insurance option. This goal was accomplished and premiums were set at a level to avoid undercutting the private market entirely.

Do we now use the excess that’s accumulated in the JUA to pay a windfall dividend to lucky policyholders who already received malpractice insurance at fair, market rates? Or do we reallocate the money for the very same public good — access to health care — that we originally sought to address by creating the JUA?

Plenty remains in the New Hampshire Medical Malpractice JUA fund to cover any possible claims. The JUA continues to serve its purpose and remains a popular insurance option for our doctors.

As a result, we in the Senate fully supported the governor’s proposal to draw from the JUA excess to help fund this two-year budget. The idea was carefully examined and we consulted with the state Attorney General’s office and the state Insurance Department before reallocating the funds.

The JUA is a state entity created to meet a statewide need and the surplus properly belongs with the state.

We believe the Legislature’s use of the excess funds is not only legally appropriate but serves the greater good — ensuring access to health care for more New Hampshire families during these difficult times.

State Sen. Deb Reynolds, D-Plymouth, is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, is chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Categories: Opinion