Senate bill would limit insurance requirements

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – A bill in the U.S. Senate would block Oregon from requiring health insurance plans to provide such services as mental health care and mammograms, say opponents who are asking the state’s two senators to oppose the bill.

Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming sponsors the measure that would allow small businesses to form associations to offer larger pools of employees for insurers.

It would also pre-empt state laws that require companies to provide particular benefits, such as the mental health parity provision approved by the Legislature in 2005.

"Everything from mental health to mammograms to child immunizations would go away," said state Sen. Joanne Verger of Coos Bay, who brought the Enzi bill to the attention of the staff of Sen. Peter Courtney of Salem, the Senate president who made the mental health bill a priority.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski wrote letters to the state’s two senators last week calling on them to oppose it.

On Monday, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith said he had concerns about the bill, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden’s office promised a comment Tuesday.

The measure is scheduled for a vote in the full Senate next week, said Craig Orfield, a staff member of the Senate committee that approved the measure in March.

The House has passed a bill that has the same goal, allowing businesses to pool employees for health insurance, but which would go further in pre-empting state regulation of insurance policies, Orfield said.

Pre-empting state regulation lowers the cost of providing health insurance for all sizes of business by making policies uniform, Orfield said.

A coalition of groups that includes state mental health and pediatrics associations, a major labor union and the American Association of Retired People said Monday they would organize to fight the bill.

Sarah Stephan, a spokeswoman for AARP, said another provision in the bill would allow insurance companies to apply ratings standards to policies, which would mean cheaper rates for businesses that hired younger, healthier people.