Health Insurance Merger or Menace

Nevada's Govenor JIm GIbbons says it could be the largest health care event in Nevada histor -- insuring the uninsured, accessibility, quality of care, reimbursement for doctors and nurses.

Those are the very issues the insurance divisoin must take a look at before approving the merger between Sierra Health Services and United Health Group.

Sierra alone services more than eight-hundred-60-thousand people in Nevada...United has 70-million customers nationwide.
Volney Lamb says his former health insurance was acquired by United.
"For example when I go to see my regular doctor it used to be five dollars which is no big deal, but now it is zero. Five dollars for a senior is a good deal."

Insurance broker Peter Breen says he likes the idea of competition in this area, for him, it gives his clients more options to buy health insurance. "More competition more choices for the consumer. If the consumer doesn't like it the consumer doesn't have to purchase it. And believe me in this area, its still a small town, word is going to get out if they provide quality care and quality reimbursement."

But for some who work on the front lines of the health field...United means trouble. Several nurses and others testified today, the insurance company will limit...not expand the options and care patients need. Diane Ross a rehabilitation specialist says she's seen first hand insurance coverage stop at her front door. " Its rationed so that patients who need to come see us may have a limit of 20 visits. Which is fine if you have maybe a broken toe. If you have a stroke or Parkinson's or a serious traumatic brain injury maybe you'll need six months of therapy in order to get back into the community and to achieve quality of life."

For United Health's part, the company says under oath it will not raise premiums, deductibles or co-pays or reduce benefits because of the merger. The merger as well as any change in rates for small employers must be approved by the Insurance Commissioner

Hearings have been going on all over the state. The final meeting is on Thursday in Las Vegas where 60-plus people will testify to the pros and cons of the merger. Once those public hearing are closed, by statute the insurance commissioner must rule on the merger within 30-days.