Senator Collins Questions State Insurance Commissioners on Policies to Fix the Nation’s Health Care System

The hearing was the first of a four-part series of bipartisan hearings to address the soaring cost of premiums in the individual health insurance market

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health Committee, questioned state insurance commissioners today on ways to increase access to affordable health care coverage. The hearing was the first in a four-part series on short-term insurance market stabilization. Senator Collins has consistently championed a bipartisan process to begin fixing the flaws in the Affordable Care Act so that it will work better for all Americans.

State insurance commissioners have extensive hands-on experience and practical insight that will be invaluable to the Committee as it works to develop commonsense policies to improve the health insurance market. Senator Collins served as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which oversaw the Maine Bureau of Insurance, from 1987-1992.

Senator Collins told Julie Mix McPeak, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, about Maine’s success at lowering premiums through a resinsurance program that ended when the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges opened. She asked Ms. McPeak about the feasibility of the federal government providing technical and financial assistance to help states replicate Maine’s achievement.

“We heard today of the success of the reinsurance pool that Alaska set up. Similarly, Maine between 2012 and 2013 had a reinsurance pool that was successful in lowering rates in the individual market by 20 percent on average,” remarked Senator Collins. “So I think when you look at the experience of those two states alone it shows the benefit of reinsurance pools.”

“I do believe that the reinsurance mechanism or a high-risk pool, either one, has the effect of removing from the risk pool the highest cost claims, which provide certainty to insurers and helps them actually price products for those other individuals in the risk pool so it should bring premiums down remarkably,” Ms. McPeak responded.

During the hearing, Senator Collins pointed out that “One of the keys to driving down rates in the individual market is to broaden the market and to get as many people as we can enrolled.”

Senator Collins asked Lori Wing-Heier, the Director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, to comment on whether allowing more people to purchase low-cost “copper” health plans would help expand insurance coverage.

“We believe that being able to have a catastrophic or copper plan available for a younger population is beneficial to growing the market and getting the healthier individuals in,” Ms. Wing-Heier replied. “We also think that it should probably be combined with a Health Savings Account.”

Senator Collins agreed that combining these low-cost health insurance plans with Health Savings Accounts would be a great way to help consumers pay for out-of-pocket costs.

In addition to today's hearing with state insurance commissioners, the Senate Health Committee will meet on September 7 to hear from governors, September 12 to hear from health policy experts on state flexibility, and September 14 to hear from a state insurance commissioner, doctors, and patient advocates.