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Lobbyists target insurance options


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000

For years, the Florida Legislature has told companies to provide certain health-care options for their workers, from chiropractic coverage to osteopathic care.

But now, three of the state's most powerful business lobbying groups are pushing bills that would tinker with the mandate process, hoping to give employers more choices and, in some cases, lower their insurance costs.

It's one of several health-care issues of interest to small businesses, which often have a tough time finding affordable coverage.

Associated Industries of Florida will push a bill that would allow insurers to offer policies without mandated coverages, as long as such a policy's rates are at least 25 percent lower than other policies.

And both the National Federation of Independent Business and the Florida Chamber of Commerce will back legislation that would establish a committee to come up with cost estimates when the Legislature considers new mandates.

The NFIB, the state's lobbying group for small business, is also backing a bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, that would allow insurers to adjust premiums for a small business based on its claims history or employees' health.

Under current law, insurers are required to charge Florida small businesses according to one sweeping group rating, adjusting rates only for factors such as age of employees or geographic location.

The group-rate situation has led to 33 small-business insurers leaving the state, said Bill Herrle, the NFIB's state director. "Having more insurers here gives employers more options," he said.

Farkas' bill would allow insurers to increase costs as much as 10 percent a year or 15 percent over the life of the policy.

Some fear the bill would lead to higher rates for all small businesses, but NFIB studies show that the average increase would be about 1 percent. And businesses with good claims histories could get lower rates, Herrle said.

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