Florida's legislature has passed what may be the nation's strictest guidelines for long-term-care insurance. "We think this is going to become a model for the nation," says Bob Lotane, spokesman for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
The law is meant to protect new and existing policyholders from rate hikes. Florida insurance statistics show that long-term policy premiums doubled between 2002 and 2004. In addition, several years ago a health carrier raised its premium 200 percent.
Legislators also hope that the insurance reforms will help ease Medicaid's long-term-care burden by increasing third-party payment for nursing home stays.
To protect policyholders from large rate increases, the legislation forbids insurance companies from charging new customers different rates than existing policyholders for the same coverage. This should curtail the practice of luring potential customers with below-cost premiums and then passing the costs on to existing policyholders.
Other guidelines deal with canceling policies. Insurers had been able to challenge coverage under a policy on the grounds of fraudulent information found on applications many years after the policy had been approved. That left elderly policyholders without insurance or struggling to prove the information on their application. Now, insurers have only two years to contest information on a policy.
Critics from the insurance industry say the law could force insurers to leave the state or avoid issuing policies to people with certain medical conditions.
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