Small Business Puts Big Insurance on Hot Seat

Date: March 17, 2014

One of the more interesting twists in the 2014 legislative session came when Gov. Jay Inslee’s Medicaid office sought out NFIB’s input on legislation intended to transform state health care purchasing and integration.
NFIB explained its objections to several sections of the bill, but voiced support for the medical cost data and quality measurement components it contained. Rather than dismiss NFIB’s concerns, the governor’s health-care policy advisors engaged NFIB as a coalition partner and, along with Rep. Eileen Cody, reworked the bill to address most of our concerns.
In its typical Chicken Little fashion, however, Premera Blue Cross, the state’s largest health insurance provider, balked at the transparency provisions of the bill, in particular the All Payer Claims Database (APCD), claiming its monopolistic sky would fall if predatory competitors somehow reverse-engineered the database to uncover the insurance giant’s proprietary pricing structure.
In reality, the APCD, when fully implemented, is an important step towards bringing meaningful data to consumers who could then compare cost and quality for medical procedures across different health-care providers and facilities, making better informed decisions to purchase the best possible care for the price they can best afford.
Sadly, Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, an hour or so before her panel held its public hearing on the bill, introduced a striking amendment gutting the APCD and quality metrics provisions. This was not the first time Sen. Becker in her tenure as chairwoman has watered down NFIB-supported legislation aimed at giving consumers access to health-care cost and quality information. But this time, the media took note.
NFIB’s objections to the striking amendment were featured on TVW’s Legislative Review broadcast that evening and on its Capitol Record blog the next morning. TVW is the state’s version of CSPAN and closely watched by Olympia insiders.
The Spokane Spokesman-Review ran an excellent story quoting NFIB in its Sunday edition that was picked up by the Associated Press and published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Yakima Herald-Republic, Skagit Valley Herald, Vancouver’s The Columbian, The Olympian, the Daily Astorian, and even The Fresno Bee as the week progressed.  
The Spokesman immediately followed up with an editorial that Monday, also supporting NFIB’s position.
KOMO Newsradio interviewed NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler about the issue later that week. They also posted the Spokesman article on the website.
NFIB/Washington stoked the flames by distributing a guest editorial that appeared in the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal and The Star of Grand Coulee.
The Seattle Times and Puget Sound Business Journal then picked up the story too.
The Seattle Times, Columbian and Olympian each ran editorials excoriating Premera and Becker for their antics, extending the story for more than a week.
Health care industry blog The State of Reform ran two posts discussing the rather unprecedented and lengthy media assault waged against Premera.
Many observers credit this widespread negative publicity as the impetus for the budget-writing Senate Ways & Means Committee ultimately restoring the APCD and quality provisions, watered down though they were, into the bill that passed both chambers in the waning hours of session.
So, while Premera and Sen. Becker were ultimately able to neuter several key aspects of the bill for now, it nonetheless contains the NFIB-supported APCD and quality metrics, on which we will continue working to improve in an effort to equip small-business owners, the families they employ and other consumers with the tools needed to evaluate where they can purchase the highest quality medical care for the lowest price.
Moreover, in this fight, NFIB burnished its reputation for standing up to Big Business, as well as traditional legislative friends and foes alike, to defend and promote its members’ best interests when others seek to harm them.
Here is the list of media coverage NFIB’s testimony spawned.
Spokesman-Review article reprinted in:
Patrick Connor, Mike Kreidler interview:

KOMO NewsRadio’s Newsline AM with John Carlson, March 3 

Editorials and articles against Premera’s move:

The Spokesman-Review editorial, March 4

NFIB’s guest editorial that started the above coverage:

Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal, March 5

For more information, contact NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor [] at 360-786-8675.

Related Content: Small Business News | Washington

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In its typical Chicken Little fashion, Premera Blue Cross balked at the transparency provisions of the bill.

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