Fed Takeover of Insurance Regs of Minor Concern to Health Plans

A recent proposal to create a council that would oversee insurance nationally would affect health insurers, but mostly in the areas of long-term care and disability, according to one expert. The concept, broached recently by Michael Oxley, a Repub-lican congressman from Ohio, would force states to adopt uniform standards and permit the marketplace to determine insurance prices, rather than state regulators.

"The issue of uniformity is very important," says Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, the big trade association. "But the bill is really directed at life and at property and casualty insurance."

Although details haven't been formulated yet, the Oxley proposal is supposedly being designed to eliminate overlapping and duplicative state requirements and procedures. Many insurers that sell financial products — and face competition from banks and mutual funds — support the effort if it would speed approval of new products.

Already, though, the president of the National Association of State Insurance Commissioners is balking.

Ernst Csiszar, who is also the South Carolina insurance director, calls the Oxley proposal a skeletal piece of legislation and argues that oversight should remain with the states. He adds that health insurance shouldn't be absorbed too quickly.

"Our health insurance system is in enough of a mess right now," he says. "As far as his proposal is concerned, health care insurance is barely a blip. The only place you'll see any impact would be with respect to long-term care products."

For now, Ignagni says, it would be premature to assume too much, given the complexities of the proposal. Further talks are needed with both congressional committees and state insurance commissioners.

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