Capitol Matters: Rendell stumps for insurance reform

By: Robert Swift
http://www.thedailyreview.com

Gov. Ed Rendell said legislation to reform insurance regulations is just as important as a House-passed bill extending coverage to uninsured adults.

As he travels across Pennsylvania, Mr. Rendell said numerous individuals approach him with stories about losing insurance coverage and not being able to get it back because of a pre-existing condition.

“These stories are brutal and they have to end,” he said at a press conference last week.

The measures awaiting a House vote later this month would do several things in addition to tackling the issue of pre-existing coverage. They would prevent insurers from adjusting rates for individuals and small businesses based on the health, age and gender of those in the coverage pool and allow insurers to deny payments to health care providers in cases involving avoidable medical errors or infections acquired during a hospital stay.

The measures would expand the power of the state insurance commissioner and require insurers to spend the bulk of premium earnings on health care, rather than keep them as profits.

The shift of debate to the terms of health insurance policies comes after the House passed a bill to expand a state-subsidized health care program to cover 270,000 working adults who are uninsured. The measure by Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, would extend the state subsidy designed to ease malpractice costs for doctors for 10 years. Doctors who participate would have to agree to treat adults in the subsidized health program as well as children in the state-run “Cover all Kids” program.

Doctors should find a 10-year extension of the malpractice subsidy preferable to living with a year-by-year renewal and they will get higher reimbursement rates for Medicaid care as well, said Mr. Rendell.

While House Democrats boast of progress on the health care issue as they campaign before the April 22 primary, Mr. Eachus’ adult coverage bill faces serious opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The state’s insurance industry opposes the regulatory reform bills.
A bill allowing communities in special economic development zones to swap undeveloped property in order to provide tax-free parcels desired by investors has won approval by a House Committee.

The measure by Rep. Peter Daley, D-Fayette, is part of a proposal by Mr. Rendell to stimulate the state’s economy. The governor is calling for an expansion of Keystone Opportunity Zones, a program started a decade ago where local governments provide tax breaks to encourage business investment in areas where development has lagged.

His key recommendation is to extend tax breaks for seven more years on undeveloped land in KOZs.

Mr. Daley’s bill includes the land-swap provision as a way to give KOZ managers more flexibility.

House Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, explained that sometimes a company needs 15 acres for a project, but a zone may have only 10 acres of available land. By negotiating land swaps, a KOZ can come up with the additional five acres needed for the project.

ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. E-mail: rswift@timesshamrock.com

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