Monday, January 26, 2009

Two bills help ensure insurance

And what’s happening to the minimum wage bill?

Frustration with insurance companies and their efforts to avoid paying benefits has contributed to rising public sentiment to make companies provide the benefits they seemingly promise customers. Two bills that will give insurance customers a chance of standing up to these big companies when they are denied benefits have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate File 62, the Discretionary Clause Prohibition Act, will help protect consumers by barring the inclusion of “discretionary clauses” in insurance contracts sold in Wyoming. Doing so will help ensure a fair hearing for people forced to challenge in court an insurer’s determination of benefits.

Supporters include the American Heart Association, the Cancer Action Network, the League of Women Voters and the ESPC.

  • They say the bill will also:provide transparency regarding real benefits for consumers.
  • Put consumers on an equal footing with insurers in benefit disputes.
  • Increase the chances that consumers will receive benefits that otherwise would be denied.
The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday, is based on model legislation from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Senate File 95, Medical Necessity Review Procedures, is a companion bill that sets up an external review procedure when a health insurance carrier denies benefits. If a patient’s doctor recommends a treatment that the insurer denied, a neutral medical expert would review the case.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tony Ross of Cheyenne said he and Sen. Kathryn Sessions (also of Cheyenne) met with Blue Cross Blue Shield lobbyist Rick Schum over the weekend to discuss the bill. They put together a number of amendments that used notification and appeal rights included in federal law, refined the definition of who can serve as a neutral expert, and otherwise attempt to assure a fair review process.

The same groups support this bill. Members of the public who believe consumers deserve a more fair relationship with insurance companies should contact their state senators and urge them to back both bills.

Is $2.13 an hour a slave wage?

A bill to raise Wyoming’s minimum wage to the federal level ($7.25 as of July 1, 2009) and to raise the state minimum wage for tipped employees ($2.13/hour) for the first time in decades was introduced at the beginning of the session but still has not been assigned to a committee.
House Bill 30, Minimum Wage, got its number way back in December and was received for introduction Jan. 13, the first day of the session.

Nothing has happened since.

Proponents worry that lobbyists for the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association have been urging the House leadership to simply sit on the bill. The ESPC is working to counteract these efforts.

In the Wyoming legislature’s accelerated general session, any bill that is not reported out of committee in the chamber it originates by Feb. 6 dies for the session.

The $2.13/hour wage for tipped employees - the servers who wait tables in Wyoming restaurants- was set decades ago. If a server’s combined income from tips and that slave wage does not reach the federal minimum wage, employers are supposed to make up the difference. That’s called the tip offset.

Anecdotal surveys by the ESPC indicate that employers do not, shall we say, go out of their way to make certain their servers make the federal minimum. Worse, they don’t fear they will be reported to agencies with the responsibility for ensuring payment of minimum wages.

Servers include a high number of students who just need a job to get through college, along with single mothers, who struggle to make ends meet. It’s difficult for them to speak out because they fear employers will retaliate and fire them.

Please feel free to forward this information to servers you know and urge them to contact the ESPC with their stories (they can write to use through our website at They will need to provide their names, but need not identify their employers if they fear retaliation.

Let’s go viral!

It will be helpful if servers include information about how many jobs they have and if they receive public benefits of any kind (e.g., food stamps, child care subsidies, KidCare CHIP, Medicaid, housing subsidies) so we can make the point that businesses paying inadequate wages are offloading their responsibilities to the taxpayers.
The ESPC will compile and forward stories to House Speaker Colin Simpson and other legislative leaders. If they realize the extent of the problem, it will help get the bill assigned and on the road to a hearing. The public needs to hear about this sorry practice that exploits too many Wyoming workers.

More campaign finance

If cold and snow don’t shut down the Capitol tomorrow, the Senate Corporations Committee will consider SF 94, Campaign finance reporting – election periods.

Current law limits a single individual to $25,000 in total contributions to candidates for office in Wyoming. The $25,000 limit applies to a single, two-year election cycle, which starts following a general election, and includes the subsequent primary and general elections.

Language in SF 94 limits well-heeled contributors to $12,500 in contributions prior to the primary election and $12,500 between the post election reporting date for the primary and through the general elections.