Buono to introduce bill to create consumer watchdog on rising health costs

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen, today announced that she will introduce legislation to create a consumer watchdog to combat continuously rising health insurance costs.

The legislation would be aimed at small businesses and families, which are suffering in an economy when business expenses have increased and wages have remained stagnant.

“New Jersey’s families and businesses have struggled under the crippling burden of soaring healthcare premiums for far too long. It is time that residents had a state-level advocate working on their behalf to keep costs down,” Buono said in a release.

“This legislation will ensure the state’s regulation of insurance is rigorous and transparent, and that the interests of working families are represented and no longer overshadowed by the interests of big business.”

The legislation would require that insurance carriers obtain prior approval from the Department of Banking and Insurance commissioner for a rate increase, and would give the commissioner explicit authority to reject proposed rate changes upon findings that they are unfairly discriminatory or excessive. The bill would also create a state-level consumer watchdog to advocate on behalf of residents by expanding the jurisdiction of the Division of Rate Counsel.

Current state law allows health insurance carriers participating in individual and small employer markets to set and increase rates merely through an informational filing with the state. The law does not require approval from the state Department of Banking and Insurance, nor does it give the Division of Rate Counsel jurisdiction over health insurance matters.

The bill will require the DOBI commissioner and the Division of Rate Counsel to jointly hold a public hearing on every request by a carrier to increase premiums for any contract or policy in the Individual Health Coverage (IHC) Program or New Jersey Small Employers Health (SEH) Benefits Program market.

The Division of Rate Counsel, which currently has no jurisdiction over health insurance rates, would be authorized under the bill to represent the public interest in proceedings that pertain to changes in rates for any health plans offered in New Jersey. The bill would also require that information about premium increases, including an explanation of how carriers report and calculate health insurance premiums, be posted on the Department of Banking and Insurance website.

Buono said that the bill will be introduced at the next Senate quorum call. Buono to introduce bill to create consumer watchdog on rising health costs