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Legislators view costs, benefits of mandated health benefits

By Stan Stelter

Bismarck, ND – North Dakota legislators have begun looking at the costs and benefits of mandated health insurance coverage.

State Insurance Department legal counsel Lou McPhail today told the interim budget committee on health care there are now 24 benefits required by law in North Dakota group health insurance policies.

Legislators are concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. An estimated 50,000 North Dakotans are without health coverage now. A bill passed by the 2001 Legislature spells out that a cost-benefit study must be done before any new mandated health benefits are added. Sen. Judy Lee of West Fargo chairs the interim committee. "We want to make sure that if we're mandating testing, for example, we hope it will result in people having earlier care and diagnosis, probably ending up in less costly care as well as certainly less traumatic for the individual as well. But we know that as each mandate is added, no matter how well intended, it does add to the cost of the premium. Employers are getting to the point where they can't absorb that all the time."

The committee will be hiring a firm to study the matter, based on recommendations from the insurance department. McPhail said the department has chosen Milliman USA, a Minneapolis company, at a cost of up to $145,000.

Lee says the study should provide legislators the information they need about health insurance mandates, including whether some should be changed or have a sunset provision. "A big concern for us is that self-funded programs are not included in any of this legislation. And we have a large percentage of our health insurance coverage in North Dakota that is self funded by employers. They're, in most cases, providing good coverage for their employees. But we aren't affecting any of those with state-applied mandates. So there gets to be a broader disparity between what state mandates are and what a self-funded employer program might have."