Biden: Insurers Need to Abide by New Ground Rules

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , September 23, 2009

Current proposals on Capitol Hill for reforming healthcare will not hurt health insurers' ability to compete and earn in the healthcare marketplace, Vice President Joe Biden told a meeting of insurance regulators on Tuesday. However, these companies need to be "held accountable" as they conduct their business.

Biden released a new report from the White House that found health insurance premiums "have gone up between 90% to 150% over the last decade—far faster than wages and inflation."

"This new state-by-state data is astounding and makes the case for nationwide reform," he told the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. From Alaska, where premiums increased 145% while wages grew just 35%, to Florida, where premiums increased 121% while wages increased 43%, "we see these gaps widening."

"This is simply unsustainable--for families, for businesses, for state budgets, and for our national economy," Biden said. As part of this solution, all insurance companies need new ground rules "to abide by [that would] restore stability and security to our healthcare system."

The vice president suggested several basic ground rules:

  • No discrimination for pre existing conditions

  • No exorbitant out of pocket expenses, deductibles or co pays

  • No cost sharing for preventive care

  • No dropping of coverage for seriously ill

  • No gender discrimination

  • No annual or lifetime caps on coverage

  • Extended coverage for young adults

  • Guaranteed insurance renewal

"These ground rules don't pick and choose which companies they apply to: They apply to everyone. The playing field is level. Every insurance company doing business in this country will have to play by these basic rules, and competition will remain healthy," Biden said.

He cited recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust that found that the average cost of a family health insurance policy increased 5.5%—from $12,680 in 2008 to $13,375 in 2009. If "the status quo persists," these "unsustainable increases" will continue to impact family premiums and cause declines in the number of employers who offer coverage, he added.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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