Assembly passes low-cost insurance bill Business relieved to escape new regulations, taxes

April 09, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Yesterday's close of the 1991 General Assembly session left business and consumer interests celebrating few victories but licking few wounds.

The session was marked by tentative first steps and a pronounced fear of anything with a price tag. That left business lobbyists more relieved about escaping new regulations and taxes than disappointed they weren't able to advance their agendas successfully.

"I think the cautious nature that the General Assembly took this session boded well for the business community," said Thomas Saquella, executive director of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.

Businesses avoided new taxes proposed in the governor's Linowes report bill, and in separate measures that would have abolished various sales tax exemptions. One bill that failed would have raised almost $100 million in new sales taxes alone.

By the same token, a coalition of labor and management groups were able to celebrate victories on only two of four proposals they had advanced to address high health-care costs.

As the legislature moved toward its midnight adjournment, it passed a bill to create a low-cost health insurance policy for small businesses and one to require health-care providers to notify patients and insurers if the provider has a financial interest in a health-care facility recommended to the patient.

But two other bills proposed by the labor-management group were defeated with the help of the physicians' lobby. They would have initiated studies of hospital and non-hospital physicians' fees.

Insurance regulatory reform took a step forward this year with the passage of all six bills supported by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Although some were weakened in committees, the bills give the state insurance commissioner a stronger hand in preventing insolvencies and fighting fraud committed against insurers.

It was a good session for title companies and attorney advertisers, both of whom fended off legislative attacks.

A bill to regulate lawyer ads died last night, and the title companies defeated a bill that would have required them to give up interest earned on client trust accounts.

A bill died at midnight that would have terminated the private insurer of state-chartered credit unions.

K? The House and Senate had passed substantially different ver

sions of the proposal, and the two chambers could not resolve their differences.

If business lobbyists were sanguine about the session, consumers likewise had little to crow about.

"I don't think we got hurt, and I think we made some small improvements," said Janelle Cousino, executive director of Maryland Citizen Action Coalition.

She cited the success of bills to strengthen bank reporting requirements under the federal Community Reinvestment Act; require insurers to write policies using "simplified language"; and the expansion of a consumer education and advocacy program in the Insurance Division.

"Of course, we're happy that no-fault is going to die," she said, referring to a bill to create an optional no-fault auto insurance system.

But attempts to prevent auto insurers from setting prices according to where a driver lives were unsuccessful.

"It can probably be classified as kind of a hold-your-own session," said Charles Krautler, senior vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

"Next year is going to be a better indication of the philosophical bent of the General Assembly," he said.

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