By Ron VandenBoom
John Morrison, Democratic candidate for State Auditor, said during a recent visit to Havre that he wants to expand what he calls "the umbrella of consumer protection."
Morrison said he is upset that a lot of our most sensitive medical and financial information is given to insurance companies either directly by the consumers or doctors.
"We have to be comfortable that the insurance company keeps that information private," he said. "That they don't sell it to telemarketers, that they don't provide it to employers without our consent, or that they don't give it to direct mail solicitors."
Morrison said it is quite common today for insurance companies to learn of a patient's medical condition when they pay for a prescription and then sell that information to a pharmaceutical company.
The patient is then flooded with sales brochures from drug companies, many of whom will send the brochures to the patient's place of employment, he said.
Morrison said preventing this practice will require changes to Montana's privacy act provisions inside the insurance code.
The State Auditor is the insurance and securities commissioner in Montana, and while Morrison said that the auditor can't deal with all forms of privacy, he can deal with private information provided insurance companies.
The current penalty for violating the privacy act is $500, Morrison said. "I want to increase that to $50,000 so it would be more consistent with the rest of the code."
Insurance companies have also started a practice, Morrison said, of asking their customers to sign a waver of their privacy rights sometimes by threatening to cancel the customers coverage.
"The purpose of the privacy protections is not to generate a blizzard of wavers," he said. "It is to protect privacy."
Morrison said he wants to stop the threat to individual privacy and extend privacy protections to commercial lines of insurance including Workman Compensation.
Morrison said he is also concerned that one out of five Montanans does not have basic health coverage. While he said there is little the auditor can do to fix the problem, he said, "it is incumbent on each elected official to do whatever they can to light a candle rather then curse the darkness."
Changes to the Montana Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) is one way Morrison said he feels the auditor may be able to help.
The MCHA is the "high risk" insurance pool that provides coverage to people that can't get coverage elsewhere. The State Auditor's Office is the administrator of MCHA.
"It's good coverage, by in large, but it's biggest problem is it's too expensive," Morrison said.
Morrison said he wants to create a sliding scale type premium that would make it less expensive for middle and lower income brackets and increase the prescription drug benefit from $1,000 to $2,500 per year. He also wants to add mental health coverage.
"MCHA is the only coverage that isn't covered by our mental health parity law," he said.
Morrison said he believes the changes will probably cover several thousand more Montanans that currently can't afford coverage.
"It doesn't solve the problem," he said. "But it takes a bite out of it."
The program could be funded in part, Morrison said, from the tobacco settlement trust he hopes to see created.
Credit scoring a insurance company practice of using credit history as a reason to deny coverage, increase premiums, or cancel coverage, is also on Morrison's hit list, he said.
"I do not think that's an appropriate way to underwrite risk," he said.
sk to car accidents, Morrison said. "But these are part of our private life and I don't think they should be part of the underwriting process.
"At some point we have to draw a line and say, you're not going to go beyond this line.'"