By Kenneth Lovett
Gov. Cuomo on Monday said he wants to codify Obamacare into New York law while at the same time directing the agency that oversees the insurance industry to reject proposed large health care rate hikes.
The insurance industry is seeking to hike health premiums by an average of 24% on individual policies in 2019, which state regulators previously said were double what they otherwise would have been had the Republican-passed federal tax law not done away with individual mandate that required people to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty.
At a rally with a powerful health care union Monday, Cuomo announced that he'd directed the Department of Financial Services to reject any rate increases attributed to a drop in participation linked to the loss of the individual mandate.
He said the increases would result in an average $1,500 increase per policyholder, and argued that insurers shouldn't opportunistically reap what he characterized as windfall profits enabled by the repeal of the individual mandate.
"If we allowed that rate increase to go through, it would be hundreds of millions of dollars as a bonanza to the private insurance companies," Cuomo said. "It would increase the cost to normal hardworking families. We're not going to let it happen."
Cuomo added that "insurance premiums must be based on actual cost, and not political manipulations."
But Eric Linzer, president and CEO of the state Health Plan Association that represents insurers, suggested Cuomo is the one doing the manipulating.
"We agree with Gov. Cuomo that decisions on health insurance premiums should be based on math, not politics," Linzer said, adding that insurer estimates for the loss of the individual mandate were moderate.
He said both the state and federal government projected that loss of the individual mandate would drive up rates, in some cases by double digits.
"A key priority must be maintaining a stable marketplace in New York," Linzer said. "Politicizing the 2019 rate requests will not help in this effort."
Meanwhile, Cuomo said at the rally that he wants to put into state law New York's health exchange, which he created by executive order after the Affordable Care Act took effect. Since then, the state's uninsured rate dropped to 5%, from 10%, he said. And 22% of those in New York who get health insurance get through the state health exchange.
"Trump is trying to collapse the ACA, he's trying to wreak havoc on our health care system," Cuomo said.
He said the state has already banned insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting illnesses, required coverage of the 10 benefits laid out in the Affordable Care Act, and mandated an end to co-pays for breast cancer screenings.
Critics, including Cuomo's Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, say he hasn't gone far enough.
Nixon has called for passage of a state single-payer health care system, though she hasn't said how she'd pay for it.
Cuomo budget spokesman Morris Peters recently told the Daily News a bill under discussion in the Legislature would cost as much as $200 billion while the state's budget this year is $170 billion.
Cuomo last year said that he believes a national single-payer program is a good idea, though he also indicated he'd sign a state bill if it passed.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said he would veto a single-payer health care bill.
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