I’ve written many times about our worse-than-worthless system of “regulating” insurance companies in Texas. My most recent complaint was just this month. Now the Dallas Morning News, in an editorial, is strongly protesting the actions of the new insurance commissioner, and suggesting she is protecting the carriers and hurting consumers (which of course she is). Here is the editorial:
Most people know what they’ll pay before they buy a car or a ticket to a sporting event. Knowing your obligations beforehand is considered good business practice — except in the view of Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman.
Incredibly, Kitzman has rescinded several consumer protections that her predecessor, Mike Geeslin, put in place to prevent patients from receiving unexpected out-of-network medical charges. Unless she changes her mind, health insurance companies won’t be required to disclose whether doctors who practice at a hospital are in the same health care network as the hospital.
Kitzman’s decision is outrageous — as anyone who has faced medical sticker shock can attest. Even if a hospital is in a patient’s insurance network, not all of the facility’s doctors may be in the same network. If you assume you’ll be charged the in-network rates, you may be in for a pricey surprise. Without clear disclosure, there is no easy way for a patient to know how to avert a financial crisis.
Geeslin sought a reasonable free-market solution: Instead of mandating coverage, he believed consumers would make informed decisions if they had an easily understood way to determine whether doctors were in-network. All insurers had to do to comply was include the information in notices and on websites.
Kitzman’s ruling unravels his initiative, potentially leaving unsuspecting patients on the hook for thousands of dollars in unexpected charges. And it runs counter to a prevailing trend toward giving patients a greater role in determining their health care options.
Kitzman has been on the job barely a year yet already has come under fire for pro-industry decisions. She sided with property insurers on rate hikes. Now she’s shifting the burden from insurers to consumers. What part of consumer protection doesn’t she get?
Consumer and medical groups worry that Kitzman might also rescind a rule that would require insurers to count toward a patient’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum the amount consumers owe after insurance companies have paid their share. If Kitzman rescinds this measure, patients would endure yet another costly financial hit.
Shopping for health care is tough enough without a regulator making it tougher. Kitzman should roll back her rollbacks. Now.