Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the mass health insurance loss “spotlights a real weakness in our health system.” “On the other…
The race to be Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is one of the most overlooked statewide races on the ballot this November, despite the position’s impact on the health and finances of almost all Georgians.
Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (commonly referred to as the Department of Insurance or DOI) is headed by Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner. The Department oversees health, auto, long-term care, and other insurance products that can be regulated by the state. For Georgians who have individual or small-group insurance (about 2.6 million Georgians), the Insurance Commissioner has a direct impact on their insurance rates, their ability to access needed health services, and the extent to which their coverage is transparent and fair.
Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is a constitutional officer in Georgia and is elected by Georgia voters for a four-year term. The Commissioner and the Department are tasked with regulating insurance companies and licensing insurance agents operating in Georgia and overseeing state fire safety initiatives, in addition to other non-health-related duties.
Because the Insurance Commissioner is primarily responsible for overseeing private health insurance in Georgia, they are key to how the Affordable Care Act and its consumer protections are implemented in the state. For example, the ACA requires that insurance companies justify any premium rate increases of more than 10% through a process called “rate review”. The Commissioner and Department staff determine how strong and transparent to make Georgia’s rate review process, and in doing so, determine how accountable insurers must be as they ask consumers for more dollars out of their household budgets.
The Commissioner and DOI are also responsible for ensuring that health plans do not design their benefits so that they discriminate against certain types of consumers. For example, if a health plan only covers one type of HIV medication and only at the highest cost-sharing level of the plan, the Commissioner could instruct his department to examine whether the plan’s design constitutes discrimination against people living with HIV. Similarly, health plans are required to cover mental health and substance use treatment services at the same level as they cover physical health services. If the Commissioner is lax in overseeing the enforcement of these laws, consumers could be financially blocked from receiving the health services that they need.
The Commissioner and his office also license insurance agents selling health insurance plans and other consumer products, as well as Georgia’s health insurance navigators. The position of “navigator” was created and funded through the Affordable Care Act in order to provide free, local, unbiased assistance for consumer enrolling into health coverage through the Marketplace. Currently, Georgia’s navigators have to meet unnecessarily burdensome licensing requirements and pay a large fee in order to be licensed by the state, something that Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner has the power to address.
The Department of Insurance is further charged with protecting Georgia citizens from insurance fraud, mediating disputes between consumers and insurance companies, and assisting consumers with questions. The Georgia Department of Insurance has historically been under-resourced and, as a result, has struggled to carry out these tasks in a robust way. Georgia’s next Commissioner will be integral in advocating for the budget and resources needed to assist and support Georgia consumers across all insurance products.
Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner will have a significant role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next four years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.
This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blogs in the series:
- Eight questions for health care voters to ask Georgia candidates
- Governor blog
- General Assembly Blog
*Georgians for a Healthy Future is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization. We do not endorse or support any candidates or political party.