Hennen: Don’t limit options for affordable health insurance
Columnist Scott Hennen urges North Dakota legislators to kill HB 1416, a bill he says removes a choice that allows consumers to save money on health insurance.
In my world, I regularly hear about how to keep health care affordable, especially health insurance. My audience talks about it. Families struggling to make ends meet talk about it, too. That’s why a bill being considered in the North Dakota Legislature, HB 1416, caught my interest.
The verbiage from the bill says it's "a bill relating to freedom of choice for health care services." And it was repeated: "Be it enacted by the legislative assembly of North Dakota... freedom of choice for health care services." That's the fancy description. For me, it's exactly the opposite. It's removing a choice that allows consumers to save money on health insurance. That is a bad idea.
HB 1416 would allow any health care provider to join an insurance company’s narrow network, which is an important health insurance option for cost-conscious consumers who choose to see fewer providers but pay a significantly lower monthly bill.
Proponents — who have peddled their opinions on the editorial pages — have claimed this legislation will provide “freedom of choice for health care services,” allowing patients more choice when selecting their health care providers. That’s just wrong. In reality, patients already make that choice when they select their health insurance plan. What HB 1416 does is the opposite of choice; it eliminates an affordable health insurance option.
Health insurance companies use different networks, or groups of health care providers, to give consumers options. A broad network plan consists of nearly all providers within a service area. These plans are more expensive. A narrow network plan, however, consists of fewer providers who have agreed to a reduced contracted rate in exchange for an anticipated increase in patient volume. These plans are about 20% more affordable than broad network plans. Yes, 20%!
Take our company, Flag Family Media, as an example. We use a narrow network health insurance plan because we prefer the 20% savings, and we are happy with the providers we can see.
HB 1416 would mandate health insurers to allow any provider to join its narrow network, which at a minimum will lead to increased premiums for me and many other small businesses. Narrow networks are cheaper because by paying providers less, they are counting on more patient volumes to pick up the slack. The more likely scenario, however, is that the insurance company will simply stop offering the narrow network plan. I’d like to keep my insurance. And I’m pretty sure thousands of others across North Dakota would, too.
I'm perplexed why the North Dakota Legislature would think a mandate is a good idea. Especially a mandate that disrupts an affordable option for health insurance.
Everyone agrees that having affordable options in the market is a good thing. Why then would the Legislature consider eliminating an affordable option? HB 1416 is not a good bill for companies like ours and the many other North Dakotans utilizing a narrow network plan. The Legislature should reject it and protect consumers who want to keep their affordable health insurance.
Scott Hennen hosts the statewide radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” On AM 1100 “The Flag”, AM 1090 KTGO “The Flag” and AM 1460 KLTC. Email him at ScottH@FlagFamily.com
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.