Health insurers warn against exchange requirements

The health insurance lobby urged federal advisers against recommending specific "essential" items or services that must be included in health plans offered on new insurance exchanges starting up in 2014.

The 10 general categories of benefits outlined in the reform law already specify an "appropriate set" of items or services that should be included in the essential health benefits package, America's Health Insurance Plans said in Thursday written testimony to the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

"Other programs, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and the Massachusetts Exchange, generally use a consistent model in which the benefit package only specifies general categories of items or services and does not indicate number and frequency of services that should be covered," wrote Carmella Bocchino, executive vice president of clinical affairs and strategic planning for AHIP.

AHIP's comments were considered in the middle of a three-day IOM meeting as the body prepares recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services on essential health benefits.

The health insurer advocate also said the essential benefits package should not have the effect of forcing individuals and small employers to purchase a richer scope of benefits than what is currently available today.

"Broadening the scope of the essential health benefit package could have the unintended consequence of making products unaffordable and thereby limit access and consumer choice," Bocchino wrote.

The group also strongly urged against requiring plans on the exchanges to comply with state mandates. AHIP said more than 2,000 state mandates currently exist.

"It would be impossible to include this large number of existing mandates in a national essential benefit package while at the same time providing affordable access to care for consumers," the group said.

The IOM should recommend an essential benefits system that allows for plans to vary levels of co-payments, deductibles and coinsurance within different benefit categories, AHIP further recommended.