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Insurance Rate Hikes

Terry McLeod

The last thing Americans need is another hit in the wallet, and the thought of upcoming increases in health insurance rates has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while…it has to happen.

eyeglasses on a health claim formA lot of legislative movement has been made over the past few years in the interest of increasing mental healthcare quality and availability, and one thing limiting quality people from entering the field as treatment professionals has been the pay scale for counselors. People either avoid or get out of the mental healthcare industry and into supporting services like I did partly because the paycheck opportunities have been better.

Twenty years or so ago I considered a career change and getting out of IT, sales and business management altogether. I made the decision not to go back to school to earn a Master of Social Work degree and become a therapist concentrating on addiction recovery as I had considered during an employment crossroads at the time. The paycheck up-ramp was too slow. Mental Health Parity legislation is supposed to rectify this problem, increasing the availability of higher quality people in the field who receive higher paychecks for what they do. Theoretically, good mental healthcare providers will keep helping people if they can get paid on par with physical healthcare practitioners.

This also sets the stage for raising insurance rates…when mental healthcare costs more to provide, insurance rates increase.

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary praised New York Governor Patterson for taking control of insurance rate hikes by establishing a law enabling the state to pound a rubber stamp on premium increases. When an insurance company is not regulated, large profits have been included in rate increases simply because it makes good business sense to make more profit, and nobody said they couldn't. The law delivers a modicum of control over greed.

The outcomes of this could be good, or not. Civil servants will be charged with the reviews, and if they're anything like the people at the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG), they will not be people to rub the wrong way (OMIG is charged with uprooting Medicaid fraud and recouping overpayments from healthcare providers when mistakes are made in billing). Will government-salaried Insurance rate inspectors be hyper-vigilant, or ambivalent? Will they be pit-bulls after the evil insurance empire, or will they be as susceptible to greed and corruption as the insurance industry has been?

Time will tell. The insurance industry's lobbying machine has created a marvelously profitable world for a lot of people, and greed can make people do stupid things.

Being a Pollyanna sort, I have hopes toward the positive side that the intent will play out in reality, and the result will be improved level mental health and reduced addiction in America without undue chunks of my paycheck going to the insurance industry.

 




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