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Wheatfield supervisor pushes state to control health insurance costs

Supervisor Timothy E. Demler is pushing the state to control the costs of health insurance.

Demler Thursday demanded that the state Insurance Commission, along with state representatives and the local congressional delegation, review and regulate the rating structures and cost increases of health maintenance organizations.

He also asked State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate the pricing structures and changes within the HMOs.

"As many of you probably know, HMOs are proposing an almost 30 percent increase in premiums for health insurance coverage here," Demler said at a news conference where he was flanked by business, union and community officials.

"But it's not just the towns and cities; it's the whole community that is affected. "How many businesses cannot afford to cover the costs of these huge increases, and choose to lay off workers?" he said. "How many will simply say: 'We can't do it anymore' and close?" He said he particularly sympathized with residents who are seeing their co-pay premiums increase by up to $300 a month because his family also is being hit.

"If we had a 30 percent property tax increase, people would be up in arms," he said. He described it as "a tragic problem" that is especially upsetting while insurance companies enjoy record profits and are trimming services and changing co-pay tiers.

Although he and his budget staff anticipated a health insurance premium increase, he said he didn't think it would be this much.

To cover its 57 employees, the town paid $33,000 a month for insurance in 2007. The annual bill is scheduled to go up $126,000 next year.

The cost hike can be covered, but Demler said he was not so optimistic for next year.

Demler, not one to normally look for government intervention, said it was time for the state to take action.

"It is ironic that government seems compelled to meddle in every aspect of our lives except one of the most important ones -- matters of life and death, matters of public health and safety, matters of quality of life for all our residents and children," he said. "Our state and federal leaders, along with the state Insurance Commission, must re-examine the ratings parameters and begin to regulate the cost and administrative operations of HMOs to avert a health insurance crisis here and throughout the state and country."

Demler said he would ask his Town Board to send a formal resolution to the state on Dec. 10.

"I know we're small, but we do have a bully pulpit," he said. "We need health insurance coverage for our residents, but we can't let them go broke doing it."

At the news conference, he was supported by Tom Stevenson, president of the Wheatfield Business Association, and Bishop Stephan Booze, co-president of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, a faith-based initiative of local churches,

Stevenson said his association is planning a forum for early 2008 to start a discussion with union, local, county and state officials as well as insurance industry representatives.


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