Politics… Bad for Your Health

Writing in the Providence Journal, Emily Harding of the Rhode Island Association of Health Underwriters lays out the general argument for some suggestions for improving the healthcare near-crisis in the state:

What made [national health insurance carriers] leave the state had nothing to do with the inability to compete with Blue Cross (which they had done for so many years, or else they wouldn’t have stayed as long as they did), but it had everything to do with Rhode Island’s unfriendly legislative atmosphere, which got worse and worse until it was so bad that they all left.
National carriers have been on record for two years saying what changes are needed if Rhode Island wants to see competition return to its health-insurance market.

The suggestions seem reasonable, and just pushing those who run Rhode Island to do something about the problem — other than reaching out for more centralized control — is absolutely critical. But here’s the catch:

Can we count on our legislature to get the job done next session, so we might see some additional carriers back in Rhode Island, perhaps by next summer, along with much lower health-care costs and more choices? It remains to be seen whether our legislators will get the job done.

Well, that’s the question of the decade. Interested citizens might find themselves wondering why it is so difficult in this state to make straightforward changes to address obvious problems. For starters, consider this little biographical summary from a recent Edward Achorn piece:

In many ways, Representative [Frank A. Montanaro (D.-Cranston)], 43, is the poster child of special-interest control of the General Assembly. It is their money — especially the money of public-employee union groups allied to his father, who is head of the state AFL-CIO and State Association of Fire Firefighters — that put young Frank in office at 25 and has kept him there for 18 years.
Soon after his election, he obtained his state job, as assistant director of facilities at Rhode Island College, which pays him about $53,600 a year. Combined with his state representative’s salary, he makes $65,880 a year directly from the taxpayers. …
Immense political power seems to be concentrated in Montanaro’s family. His father, of course, is the unelected governor, running Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, controlling the state Labor Relations Board and often chairing the state Economic Development Corporation. Young Frank’s wife, Joy, a dental hygienist, is chair of the Cranston Zoning Board of Review. His uncle, Richard Crudele, ran the city’s Building and Maintenance Department until Mayor Laffey took over. His cousin, former state Rep. Coleen Crudele, is chairman of Cranston’s Board of Contracts and Purchasing.

How many Rhode Island legislators have similar reason to be disinclined to invite competition into the state? Higher healthcare costs to the RI taxpayer are a meager price to pay, considering the rewards of complicity.

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