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Protesters Demand Consumer Voice on Health Exchange Board

October 21, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. - Some consumer health advocates protested at Thursday's meeting of the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange Board. They say the board includes several members who were affiliated for many years with the insurance industry – and no consumer representatives, which they claim is in violation of federal law.

Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, says the board will have a lot of power to make decisions regarding health coverage in the state over the next couple of years.

"What they're going to decide is which plans are going to be offered in the exchange, what benefits they have to cover, and how much they can charge – which is huge. And insurance companies shouldn't be in the position of deciding which insurance companies can be in, what standards they have to meet, and how much they could charge."

Jeanette de Jesus, a special health adviser for Gov. Dannel Malloy, defends the governor's choice of a retired insurance executive and current member of a hospital board as meeting the requirements of the law, although state law specifically prohibits those with such current affiliations from serving. She believes the board includes people who represent the interests of consumers. She acknowledges other steps could be taken, however.

"The governor would support either the addition to the board of a consumer, or any other remedy that would address this issue, which is very important."

Andrews says she fields thousands of calls every year from Connecticut residents desperate to find health insurance. She is convinced that the current composition of the board violates federal law, which requires a majority of members to be consumers or small business representatives, and also the state law.

"It's actually a state law that says that anyone with an affiliation with insurance companies is excluded from the board, but they still put three people on with very long ties."

The Insurance Exchange Board has 11 voting members and must have a health exchange up and running by January 2014.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT