The Virginia Campaign for Consumer Choice just released a new poll showing that Virginians have major concerns over the proposed $54 billion merger between health insurers Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp. I just got off a call about the poll results with State Senator Scott Surovell of the 36th District of Virginia; Jim Williams, Issue Polling Specialist at Public Policy Polling (PPP); Karen Cameron, Director of Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare; and Ray Scher, State Governing Board, Virginia Organizing. Here are a few highlights.
- Jim Williams of PPP said that 87% of Virginians are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about these proposed healthcare company mergers. Only 20% of respondents knew that the five major national health insurance companies were attempting to merge down to three. Also, only 30% knew that the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) has the power to approve or reject the mergers. 86% of Virginians think that there should be an opportunity for the public to provide input, and 81% would expect that public hearings be held so that the public can weigh in on the proposed mergers. Bottom line: “it’s not very common for us to find such broad agreement on any issue in today’s political environment…very strong findings”
- Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36th) said this polling provides “critical insight into public opinion on these mergers.” Surovell said that the polling shows interest in this issue to be bipartisan, with 83% of Democrats and 92% of Republicans either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about these mergers. Among their concerns, Virginians worry that the mergers could decrease competition, stifle innovation, lead to higher insurance premiums and out-of-pocket charges. Along with 11 other legislators, Surovell sent a letter to Insurance Commissioner Jacqueline Cunningham calling for specific actions, including helping to educate consumers on the process, allowing the public to have intervenor status, and holding hearings at convenient times/places to encourage wide participation. “Part of the reason for this is that the State Corporation Commission is one of the only corporate regulators in the USA that doesn’t have any kind of sunshine laws that applies to it or Freedom of Information Act, so maximum transparency and consumer involvement/input is absolutely critical.” Finally, many Virginians don’t realize how powerful the SCC is; it has the power to develop strong regulatory remedies for health insurance mergers to protect consumers.
- Karen Cameron, Director of Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare said most of Virginia’s insurance markets are ALREADY highly concentrated, and these mergers “could make it more difficult for companies to enter health insurance markets and compete.” That, in turn, “could have a major impact on consumers.” Meanwhile, the SCC’s comments period has not been extended, and that is “unacceptable,” as the SCC hasn’t even released its important report yet on the potential impact of the Anthem-Cigna merger. The public has to be informed, which makes it imperative for the SCC to release its report.
- Ray Scher of Virginia Organizing said it is “in the best interest of our citizens and our democracy for consumer voices to be heard in this major decision, especially as it will directly impact their healthcare and their bank accounts.” “These mergers, if unchecked, could threaten the competitive landscape in the healthcare industry, which could lead to higher costs, lower quality and less consumer choice.” We need to make this “an open and transparent evaluation” by holding public hearings at times/places that are conducive to public participation.