The Western North Carolina Association of Health Underwriters (WNCAHU) held their annual legislative meeting at Asheville’s Renaissance Hotel. Guest speakers included N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise (R),  N.C. Rep. Susan Fisher (D), and N.C. Rep. Brian Turner (R), N.C. Rep. Kevin Corbin (R), and a staffer from the office of Republican U.S. Representative Mark Meadows.

Fisher said she is part of a delegation in Buncombe County that is dedicated to looking out for the best interest of the people it represents. “Brian Turner is part of that delegation, we have Senator Terry Van Duyn, and John Ager. It’s been an honor to do this and I want to do more.”

Fisher addressed the proposed state constitutional amendments ahead of the midterm elections.

“The process that has brought constitutional amendments in the past has already had enabling legislation accompanying it on the ballot, so you know exactly what would happen if you passed that amendment.”

None of the six amendments on the ballot had enabling legislation enacted. “The plan is to go in late November, after the election has taken place, and create the enabling legislation,” she said.

Turner said one of the things he is focusing on is making sure the insurance companies and healthcare providers are working together, and in the best interest of the patients and the clients they represent.

“People are still frustrated and a little sore about the Mission-Blue Cross fight that happened last year. We hope sometimes they can stop some of the fighting that goes on between them.”

Locally, Turner is keeping a concerned eye on the HCA merger with Mission Health. “I know there have been a lot of questions raised, and a lot of stones thrown in the newspaper, so I feel pretty confident that Attorney General Stein’s office is doing a good job of vetting that transaction to make sure Western North Carolina continues to have quality healthcare delivered at an affordable price.”

Turner said after a recent conversation with Janice Brumit, chair of Dogwood Health Trust, he is encouraged by what she had to say about how it will function, and some of the things they will be funding outside of Buncombe County.

“There are a lot of points west of here that will be affected by this merger, and by this new nonprofit.”

Hise who has been in the senate since 2011 characterized himself as a university system statistician. He was asked about conducting forecasting by the state senate pro tem.

“He kind of stopped me in the middle of that conversation and said, ‘you can do it and the Department of Health and Human Services can’t. You are now the department chair.’ This meant I now took over a $19 billion healthcare budget, mostly run by Medicaid. There is nothing that has changed more in the past seven to eight years than health insurance.”

He said healthcare hasn’t changed much in that time, but what the Affordable Care Act has changed is the kind of insurance people have received, and the challenges such as proposed tax penalties that have accompanied it.

“We want to reduce the cost of healthcare, and one of the ways to do that is balanced billing. There was a hospital in Rutherford County charging 10,000 percent of Medicare rates for seeing an emergency room doctor because they were ‘out of network,’ even if you presented at a hospital that was in network.”

Hise said the General Assembly is working with underwriters and actuaries to put together plans employers will find desirable and that provide more favorable cost options to the insured.

Corbin has made his living in health insurance since 1984. His agency is headquartered in Franklin and Asheville, with offices in seven western North Carolina counties, Tennessee, and Seneca, South Carolina. He said the health insurance industry has been through so many changes that it’s nothing like it was in 1984. Because of his background, Corbin said he is considered the “go to person” for questions about health insurance for Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mission Health, and WNCAHU.

Corbin opposed a provision that was introduced that would allow Telemedicine to be billed at the same rate as a doctor’s office visit.

“While that sounds good, it would be very expensive and provide substandard care. It was defeated on the floor, which saved the insurance industry and our clients a lot of money.”

Another issue that surfaced was an assignment of benefits that would force insurance companies to directly reimburse hospitals at the same rate whether they were in or out of network.

“Blue Cross Blue Shield estimated it would cost them $700 million for that to happen, so I opposed that, and it failed. Those are just a couple pieces of legislation on which I had an impact,” Corbin said.

In a Washington update, Federal Law and legislative chair for NCAHU David Block announced that WNCAHU was hoping for the passage of two bills, H.R. 3919, and senate bill 1908. The purpose of H.R. 3919 is to streamline the employer reporting process and strengthen the eligibility verification process for the premium assistance tax credit and cost-sharing subsidy. Senate bill 1908 amends the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Internal Revenue Code to modify the requirements for employers to report health insurance coverage information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by the end of the tax year.

Andrea Block, WNCAHU past president and sponsorship chair said members look forward to the annual legislative meeting.

“It is always exciting to hear from our elected officials and how morally supportive they are of our chapter. In addition, we anticipate exchanging ideas in comparing goals, and experiencing the camaraderie, and good cheer,” she said.

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