The LuLac Edition #290, August 22nd, 2007
PHOTO INDEX: STATE REPRESENTATIVE JOHN YUDICHAK MAKING A POINT IN LAST YEAR'S DEBATE AT LCCCC AND STATE REPRESENTATIVE PHYLLIS MUNDY.
At a time when businesses, school districts and families are confronting ever-rising insurance costs, a Luzerne County legislator believes it'stime to create a state Office of Consumer Advocate for Insurance. Rep. John T. Yudichak, D-Luzerne, has introduced House Bill 1121, which would create an independent advocate within the state attorney general's office with its own legal staff and the power to go to court if it decides that is necessary. "Consumers just can't get answers," Yudichak said. "The time is ripe to take up this issue." The House Insurance Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill at9:30 a.m. Aug. 30 in Room 140 of the Capitol. "Answers and accountability -- we don't have that now," said Yudichak, expressing special concern about the rising cost of health insurance."We need an independent watchdog, an advocate with resources." His model for the insurance advocate is the state Office of Consumer Advocate, which represents customers of regulated utilities before the state Public Utility Commission and in the courts. State Consumer Advocate Irwin Popowsky and his staff of lawyers are partof the attorney general's office and share certain resources such as a personnel office. Popowsky said the consumer advocate is nominated by the attorney general, but once confirmed by the Senate, is independent. His decisions are not subject to review by the attorney general, and he has his own budget. Insurance consumers do not have an independent agency to advocate for their interests before the state Insurance Department. The department is charged with looking after the interests of both consumers and the insurance industry. The Insurance Department has an Office of Insurance Consumer Liaison headed by Cynthia Fillman, but it was created by executive order of Gov. Ed Rendell and has no legal staff. "I don't know if we have a position on the bill," Insurance Department spokeswoman Roseanne Placey said. "[Fillman] is going to testify on how we interact with consumers at the present time." Fillman cannot go to court on behalf of consumers, Placey said. Sam Marshall, a spokesman for the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, questioned the need for an Office of Consumer Advocate for Insurance within the attorney general's office. "Isn't that why we have an Insurance Department?" he asked. Marshall said state regulation of insurance companies has always aimed at making sure the insurers deal fairly with their policyholders. "Do you need an insurance consumer advocate? Yes," he said. "But that responsibility is being fulfilled, and fulfilled well, by the Insurance Department."
MUNDY CAN HELP
Representative Phyllis Mundy's office can help you apply for CHIP. CHIP offers free and low-cost insurance. The Children's Health Insurance Program provides free health insurance to all uninsured children and teens (up to age 19), regardless of family income.
For many families, CHIP is free, with no copays or monthly premiums. Families with higher incomes may qualify for low-cost or at-cost CHIP, and will have low monthly premiums and copays for some services.
CHIP coverage includes prescription drugs; routine checkups; immunizations; diagnostic testing; emergency care; dental, vision and hearing services; and mental health.
To find out if your child qualifies, click the CHIP button on my Web site or contact constituent service office at (570) 283-9622. Her staff can assist you with the necessary forms.