Iowans are skeptical of insurance regulators’ ability to protect public

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million.
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Iowans don’t have much faith in public officials’ oversight of the insurance industry, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll suggests.

Fifty-one percent of Iowa adults say they’re not confident in the government’s ability to protect their interests when it comes to insurance practices, according to the new poll. Just 7 percent say they’re “very confident” in that ability, 36 percent are mostly confident, and 6 percent are unsure.

The new poll comes amid news about skyrocketing costs of health insurance and Congress’ floundering efforts to revamp the health-care system. According to the poll, Iowans are less likely to say they’re confident about regulators’ ability to protect them on insurance matters than they are about regulators’ ability to handle other issues, such as public safety, the food supply, medical care, air quality, water quality and child welfare.

The poll of 800 Iowa adults, conducted July 9-13 by Selzer and Co., has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Poll participant Roger Fleener of Des Moines blames federal government regulations for much of the increase in health insurance premiums. “It was a lot less costly before Uncle Sam stuck his nose in it,” he said. “I think government needs to stay out of the insurance business.”

He believes that consumers should have more freedom to buy the kind of health insurance that suits them, and that they should be able to buy policies from carriers in other states.

Fleener, 60, is a Republican who used to be a Democrat. He obtains health coverage through his job as a service representative for a laboratory company, and he used to work in the insurance industry. He has more confidence in the government’s ability to safeguard other areas, such as water quality and air quality.

Poll participant Raymond Lafleur of Sioux City said he is “mostly confident” in regulation of the insurance industry.

Lafleur, 26, is a political independent who obtains his health insurance through his job building grain trailers. He believes that consumers should be required to have health insurance. But he thinks they should be able to choose the types of policies they buy, instead of being told their insurance must include specific coverage. “They shouldn’t have complete regulation,” he said.

He said he agrees with the current practice of requiring insurance carriers to justify large price increases to the state insurance commissioner after holding hearings.

Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said he understands why many Iowans are frustrated with the state of insurance, especially health coverage.

The main focus of recent controversies has been the market for individual health-insurance policies — the kind that people buy if they aren’t offered coverage by an employer or a government program, such as Medicare. Premiums for individual policies have been jumping for several years, and carriers have been pulling out of the market. At this point, just one carrier plans to sell such policies in Iowa for next year, and it is seeking a 43 percent premiums increase. Although most Iowans have other kinds of health insurance with lower premium increases, they’ve been hearing a lot about the turmoil in the individual market.

“Certainly, with the headlines of recent months, I would understand the reduction in confidence people might have in the ability of the federal government to address something that they’ve taken the responsibility for in the area of health insurance,” Ommen said in an interview.

The Iowa insurance commissioner, who was appointed by Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad, wants Congress to change rules from the Affordable Care Act. For example, he wants the federal government to help pay for a relatively small number of people with very expensive health-care needs, who skew the risk pool for everyone else. He’s proposed a “stopgap” plan to do that in Iowa for next year, and he wants Congress to pass permanent changes.

Many consumers lack a basic understanding of how insurance works to pool the risk of unexpected costs, including for health care, Ommen said. His office sponsors education efforts on financial matters and insurance, including for high-school students. “Insurance is one of the least understood concepts for most students as they come into that class,” he said.

The issue has a bit of a partisan divide. Among Iowa Democrats, 55 percent are not confident in insurance regulators’ ability to protect their interest, the poll shows. Among Republicans, the figure is 43 percent, and among political independents, it’s 57 percent.

The partisan split is more dramatic on other subjects, the poll shows. For example, 33 percent of Iowa Democrats are not confident in government’s ability to ensure air quality, compared to 24 percent of political independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

On child welfare, 44 percent of Iowa Democrats lack confidence in government’s ability to protect the public’s interests, compared to 38 percent of political independents and 28 percent of Republicans.

Iowans’ confidence in government regulators hasn’t shifted much since 2005, when the Iowa Poll asked the same set of questions. For example, the portion of Iowans who aren’t confident in insurance regulators inched up from 47 percent in 2005 to 51 percent now. The portion who describe themselves as “somewhat confident” on that issue slipped from 40 percent to 36 percent, and the portion who are “very confident” dipped from 9 percent to 7 percent. 

About the poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted July 9-13 for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 800 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age and sex to reflect the general population based on recent census data.

Questions based on the sample of 800 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the percentages shown here by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age— have a larger margin of error.

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.

 

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