By ALISA ULFERTS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Shaneen Wahl's health insurance company didn't drop her when she developed breast cancer in 1996.
It just raised her rates over several years, from under $200 a month to close to $2,000, Wahl told members of a Senate committee Tuesday.
"They told me they didn't cancel me, but get real," the 51-year-old Port Charlotte resident said. And when she complained to the state, Wahl said, she found nothing could be done because the Wisconsin-based company wasn't regulated in Florida.
Members of the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance decided that should be changed Tuesday. They approved a bill that would extend to out-of-state companies the same individual policy regulations that govern Florida companies. They also approved a separate bill to reopen an insurance pool for people who can't get coverage -- similar to last-resort insurance associations for people who can't get hurricane coverage because they live in high-risk areas.
Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher urged senators to approve both proposals.
"It's an unfair advantage to the company and a disadvantage to the citizens of Florida, and I believe the loophole should be closed," Gallagher said of the out-of-state regulations. He said they will protect consumers who buy out-of-state policies, which can be less expensive, from cancellations, unfair rate increases and delays on claim payments.
Wahl also asked senators to approve the bill.
To lobbyists opposed to the bill, Wahl said: "I'd like you to look me in the eye and tell me why."
If passed, that bill could affect at least 100,000 Floridians, Gallagher said. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, must pass through two more committees before heading to the Senate floor. Its sponsor in the House is another Tampa Bay lawmaker, Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater.
Sam Bell, a lobbyist for Indiana-based Golden Rule Insurance Co., said extending Florida's strict regulations to companies outside the state will drive them out of Florida's market.
"If this passes most (companies), if not all, that are still writing will probably leave," Bell said after the committee hearing.
The other bill approved by the Senate committee Tuesday would reopen the Florida Comprehensive Health Association, which was set up in 1983 for people so sick they can't get private insurance. It closed to new customers in 1991 because of rising costs. The bill, also sponsored by Latvala, would provide coverage to people who have been rejected by two insurers or have had coverage in the past but are being rejected now because of a medical condition.
Such a health insurance pool would lose money, and the bill calls for a monthly, 25-cents-a-policy assessment on other health insurance companies. Florida's health insurers are adamantly opposed to paying that.
"Many employers are looking at an 8 to 15 percent increase. They're going to have to make hard decisions about whether to increase employees' costs or cut benefits," Paul Sanford, a lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and the Florida Insurance Council, told the committee.
The association could charge people up to three times what the private market would.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Florida Legislature Session 2001