Dyson's bill would protect seniors from HMO insurance rate hike

Posted on February 11, 1999 at 13:15:16:

State Senator Roy Dyson (D-Calvert, St. Mary's) introduced a bill last week that would cut down on a major financial burden on senior citizens' health care bills.

Seniors in Calvert, St. Mary's and other rural Maryland counties were informed late last year by Blue Cross/Blue Shield that they would have to pay $75 extra in 1999 than they did in 1998 if they were to continue to receive added benefits not covered by Medicare.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield added the $75 charge to rural counties, but no extra charge to more urban counties after every other health care provider discontinued added benefit services to seniors effective January 1, 1999. Seniors in the rural counties were then forced to pay the $75 extra dollars a month if they were to continue to be covered with benefits not covered by Medicare.

Responding to an enormous outcry from the seniors in his district who were upset with Blue Cross/Blue Shield's new policy, Senator Dyson researched the problem in depth and requested legal advice from Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., whether the insurance company's policy was legal. Curran established that it was.

Dyson's bill calls for "requiring certain health maintenance organizations that have entered into a certain contract with the federal Health Care Financing Administration to provide health care services under the Medicare program to offer the contract in all jurisdictions of the State and to consider the entire State a single service area for purposes of determining premiums; requiring certain health maintenance organizations that have entered into a certain contract to establish a certain premium if the health maintenance organization establishes or alters in a certain manner an already established premium it charges to its enrollees."

"I was enraged that seniors in my district were forced to pay a ridiculous amount of money to ensure they had extended coverage not offered by Medicare," Dyson said. "I was even more disappointed that "rural counties" had to bear the brunt of Blue Cross/Blue Shield's premium increase. What incensed me more is that our seniors were notified in the late fall of this enormous increase. They had little time to get over the shock of the increase and then had to scramble fast to get covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. This was nothing but a bully tactic by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

"My legislation would spread the premium increases by Blue Shield throughout the state. With each county helping to pay the increased premiums, it would substantially cut down the costs that rural residents are being forced to pay. Seventy-five extra dollars a month for a senior citizen is a lot of money. It's unfair to our rural seniors. It's discriminatory. It's right that the whole state should help offset the cost Blue Cross/Blue Shield says it needs to be paid to remain competitive in the senior HMO market."

"I promised my constituents when this health care crisis first began last fall that I would introduce this legislation. Until the bill (Senate Bill 596) is heard in the finance committee on March 3, I intend to agressively lobby my fellow Senators and Delegates to support this bill. We are one Maryland. And all Marylanders should unite to share the costs of this unfortunate hike in rates by Blue Cross/Blue Shield rather than pawning it off on a certain segment of the state's population. Passing this legislation is, quite simply, the right thing to do."

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