Campaign Desk looked at a sample of stories from the paper and found them wanting. The day the governor signed the bill, readers learn in the lede that his signature puts an “end to a bruising political brawl.” In the second graph, they learned about a “testy floor debate that displayed the tensions that have emerged between the parties.” In the fifth graph, they learned that “hostilities peaked.” The story never mentioned the rate deregulation, simply saying in the fourteenth paragraph of a twenty-paragraph story that “the 45-page bill overhauls the health insurance market for about 40,000 people—those who buy independently or through employers whose companies have 50 or fewer workers.” At the end, readers got the money line with the paper reporting: “Republicans say the changes will foster more competition in the health insurance market. They say the reforms will encourage more young people to buy insurance, and that a larger pool with more healthy people will lower premiums for all groups.”
A few pieces did touch on the consequences for older people who will have to pay more. Perhaps that was easier than understanding the state’s insurance regulations. But even here, the stories too often relied on quotes from legislators to tell the story. In one case where a Democratic legislator said higher premiums will cause older people to drop coverage, the reporter allowed two Republicans to counter her. One said he was convinced the bill would lower premiums for everyone, while the Senate majority leader said regulations aimed at protecting older people from high premiums have simply driven young people out of the market causing higher premiums for everyone. “This system is broken and it’s time to take a different approach,” the paper reported. Ah, those slogans!
The background leading up to the political drama was MIA in many of the Press Herald stories we looked at. Campaign Desk closely followed the Anthem case and Kofman’s efforts to lower the rates for policyholders, reporting that the outcome may be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the nation. “Too many times the companies have found a way around the rules, and they’ve never been shy about using the courts when they dislike something a hard-hitting regulator has done,” I wrote. “How this case is decided could reveal much about whether insurance market reform (the crux of the federal health law) will actually help the public or whether it will be business as ususal.”
Two years ago Kofman challenged an 18.5 percent average rate increase, allowing only an eleven percent raise and no increase for profit. Anthem took her to court. A lower court agreed with her, but the state’s highest court dismissed the case since a new rate request made the matter moot. The new request was for a 23 percent increase on average, but Kofman granted only 14 percent, this time allowing a small amount for profit. Again Anthem appealed. The court stayed the appeal waiting for guidance from the higher court, which never came. This year the company asked for nearly a 10 percent average rate increase; regulators granted half that amount with a one percent for profit. Anthem has not yet appealed.
Who won and who lost? The state successfully defended the rate reductions, and despite Anthem arguments that rates were inadequate, the company made a profit. On the issues of legal precedent, it was a draw. Large insurers have other ways to press their agendas. Anthem won big in the legislature—ridding themselves of pesky rate regulations while showing the world that the mighty insurance industry is still mighty enough to thwart health reform. As for the public and the press, the word “losers” seems to apply.