Rendell praises health care vote, calls for passage of state bills

Gov. Rendell today praised the passage of federal health care legislation, calling it a "great step forward for the American people" and urged passage of state legislation that would give the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner the power to the regulate insurance rates.

The bill "makes health care a right no longer a privilege," said Rendell, at a news conference.

Rendell, also criticized Highmark Blue Shield, which is the leading insurance provider in central Pennsylvania, for seeking an injuction against Insurance Commissioner's attempt to investigate its market practices - at the same time as the passage of the landmark health care reform legislation.

"A new federal health care package is dependent on a vibrant and competitive private health care insurance system," said Rendell. "Pennsylvania is widely known as one of the least competitive states because of the dominance of the Blues in the health insurance market."

He said the suit could have "a chilling effect on the fact finding process, which is the core of the Insurance Commissioner's job."

Rendell also urged the state Senate to pass small group health insurance reform, that would end rate spikes and allow the Insurance Commissioner the right to regulate rates, much like in the case of auto insurance. Two bills that would do just that passed the House in the past two years, but only one bill is still alive this session. House Bill 746, approved by the House in June of last year, is currently in the hands of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

That bill would prohibit medical underwriting by any insurance company in the small group market. Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the country that has no limit on rating factors in the small group insurance market, according to House Democrats. It also would give the Insurance Commissioner the power to review and either approve or deny all rating filings from insurers of small businesses.

Rendell said he may have helped a wee bit on Capitol Hill during the national health care debate by encouraging some Democratic holdouts to get on board with President Obama's plan. At the request of the White House he said he made calls to five or six members of the Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation who were on the fence. Rendell said he didn't offer anything or threaten to withhold support this campaign season, but made his pitch that if they were concerned about the costs in the November election, that it was a fight "worth losing for."

Rendell said he didn't think his plea was the determining factor, but four of the House lawmakers voted in support of the legislation.


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