JEFFERSON CITY _ Although Gov. Mel Carnahan abandoned a push for health-insurance regulation this legislative session, the Senate Health Committee has approved a sweeping plan to expand citizen access to health insurance.
The measure _ which now goes to the full Senate _ would require health insurance companies to provide standard benefits packages and sell coverage at standard rates by region. The bill also would establish an annual 30-day open enrollment period and would limit exclusions based on preexisting conditions.
Finally, the proposal would give policy holders the right to keep their insurance when they change jobs _ a concept called portability.
At the beginning of this session, Carnahan abandoned any effort for health-insurance regulation, saying another fight in the General Assembly would be futile because of opposition from the insurance industry.
But the governor's office expressed support for the bill's approach.
"The Governor is strongly in support of all those (provisions)," said Marc Farinella, Carnahan's chief of staff. "This is a much smarter way of approaching health care than some of the other ways that have been floated, particularly in Washington."
And Farinella suggested the governor's hands-off approach to health insurance legislation could change.
"The governor is not looking to avoid a fight," said Marc Farinella, Carnahan's chief of staff. "If we have a realistic chance of passing these reforms, he's going to work very hard to do that."
It is too early to tell what action the governor will take in supporting the bill, Farinella said, but lobbying legislators remains a possibility.
"The governor certainly meets with legislators regularly to encourage them to pass legislation he is interested in, and he may very well do that in this case."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ed Quick, D-Kansas City, said he is appreciative of any help the governor can offer, but that the bill still faces the same opposition as the governor's bill encountered last year.
"The main thing the insurance companies are opposed to is the community ratings," Quick said. "But if you take out the community ratings there's no point in passing the bill."
Insurance companies oppose community ratings because they result in unfair costs for some consumers, said Gary Maienschein, a lobbyist for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
"Community ratings mean young people pay a higher rate than they need to so older people can pay a lower rate than is correct," Maienschein said.
But there is room to compromise on the community ratings issue, Quick said.
"I'm not locked into saying the bill absolutely has to pass this way," Quick said. "If insurance companies have an idea similar to community ratings that would level the playing field, I'm willing to listen."
Insurers are working on that problem, Maienschein said.
"Some of our people are studying that, and they may find something that would make the bill more feasible," Maienschein said.