By SHARMINA MANANDHR
NATIONAL HARBOR (Sept. 22, 2009)—As part of a two-day effort in Maryland to sell President Obama's health care plan, Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday told the National Association of Insurance Commissioners basic "ground rules" are needed for insurance companies.
At minimum, Biden said, insurance companies should be prohibited from: discriminating for preexisting conditions; charging exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or copays; charging co-payments for preventive care; dropping coverage of the seriously ill; discriminating by gender; or capping lifetime coverage.
"I want them (insurance companies to) continue to do their job and make a profit," Biden said during his speech at the National Harbor complex in Prince George's County. "But I also want them held accountable."
Biden also said no company would be at a "political disadvantage" because of the administration's plan because the "ground rules don't pick and choose which companies they apply to."
"Right now a company that may want to do the right thing cannot do the right thing, because they'll find themselves at a competitive disadvantage," Biden said. "But if this is universally required of all those providing health insurance, there is no competitive disadvantage."
The plan, which would prevent insurance companies from dropping unhealthy customers, will add a pool of 30 million to 40 million new, healthy, young customers, who are inexpensive to cover, Biden said.
To stress the importance of health insurance reform, Biden cited a White House report which found that health insurance premiums in states have gone up between 90 and 150 percent in the last decade.
"The soaring premiums are not only hurting families and killing small businesses, they're hurting our competitive position all around the world," Biden said.
The speech, in a series of White House efforts to gather support for health care reform came only four days after President Obama held a health care rally in University of Maryland, College Park and the same day the Senate Finance Committee took up Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus' health care reform bill.
NAIC officials agreed with some of Biden's points.
"Spreading the risk, getting younger healthier folks in the system is the key to make this work," said Sandy Praeger, Kansas Insurance commissioner and chairwoman of the Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee.
For Maryland, affordability and availability of insurance are the main issues affecting the health insurance debate, according to Ralph Tyler, Maryland Insurance Commissioner.
"Most of the concerns are common with other states," Tyler said. "Affordability and increasing rates are our main concerns."
But individual states still need to have bigger roles in handling consumer complaints and regulating insurance market because "that is done better closer to people and markets differ across the country," according to Tyler.
"We are working with Congress on preserving as much state authority as we can, recognizing that on this issue we very much need a national reform," Tyler said.
On Wednesday, Biden will again use Maryland as a backdrop for his health insurance sales pitch, coming to the retirement community Leisure World in Silver Spring.
Biden will be joined there by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle along with Democratic Maryland Sens. Benjamin L.Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.