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Health Insurance Access Act Dies

By: JASON CALLICOAT
State Capital Bureau

April 23, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ The death-knell was all but sounded Thursday for health insurance regulation in Missouri's 1995 legislative session.

The decreased interest in health care during this session was made obvious Thursday when the Health Insurance Access Act was put aside after just a brief Senate debate.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ed Quick, D-Kansas City, and Majority Leader J.B. "Jet" Banks, D-St. Louis, agreed to end discussion of the bill after just 15 minutes so as not to delay debate on bills scheduled to be discussed later in the day.

With just three weeks left in the legislative session, the Senate's failure to pass the measure Thursday virtually guarantees its death this year.

The proposal would impose several requirements on insurance companies designed to access to health care insurance for all Missourians.

Among the provisions, insurance companies would be restricted from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And, the companies would be required to charge standard rates for standardized policies.

During the short debate, the Senate Republican leader offered a scaled-down approach.

The alternative, offered by Sen. Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, would only limit exclusions based on preexisting conditions and allow policy holders to keep their insurance when they change jobs.

"What I am offering is the most simple, stripped down, least bureaucratic, least intrusive measure I can offer," Flotron said. "(Preexisting conditions and portability) have been in every health-care bill we've talked about in the last two years. If there is a common element, it's what's in the substitute I've offered."

Quick argued that it was not enough.

"You're not doing anything if those are the only conditions you're dealing with," Quick said. "Those are available now if you can afford them."

To truly improve the health care system, insurers must be required to sell coverage at standard rates by region, Quick said.

Quick's original measure also would establish annual 30-day open-enrollment periods during which each insurer must actively market its plans within its market service area.

At the beginning of the session, Gov. Mel Carnahan had predicted there would not be enough support in the legislature to pass a broad health-care access bill like he had proposed last year.

Carnahan cited that lack of support for his decision to drop health insurance regulation from his legislative program this year.

However, a bill regulating health maintenance organizations is in much better shape.

It has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House Insurance Committee.

While covering just HMOs, it addresses one of the major complaints about health coverage _ patient access to doctors.

It would restrict an HMO from abritrarily refusing to allow a medical-care provider to join the HMO.