Insurance commissioners punt on pro-broker bill

State insurance regulators have decided to wait for a month or so before deciding whether to endorse legislation exempting agents and brokers from a provision of the healthcare reform law.

Agents had lobbied hard to be exempted from the calculation of the law's medical loss ratio (MLR), which requires health plans to spend a minimum percentage of premiums on medical care. A panel of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners was expected to vote on the issue during its spring meeting, but on Sunday the panel instead opted to first study for a month how badly the MLR would affect brokers' commissions.

Liberal groups, worried that the broker exemption would gut the MLR provision, applauded the decision. A bipartisan bill to protect agents and brokers has been introduced in Congress, but it faces an uphill battle without state officials' endorsement. 

"Without the united backing of the state insurance commissioners, the legislation's special-interest authorship is laid bare and its aim — to protect large percentage commissions on health insurance sales — is easier to detect," Judy Dugan, research director of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, said in a statement. "We applaud the consumer-focused state commissioners who made their doubts known. They put the brakes on an industry pay bonus from the pockets of consumers and taxpayers."