By Bob Mercer
State Capitol Bureau
A battle over health insurance coverage might be moving from the Legislature’s chambers to the privacy of the voting booth.
Voters could get the opportunity next year to decide whether to allow patients more freedom to choose their providers of medical services, rather than be limited to those participating in their insurers’ networks.
Even with patient choice, however, the preferred providers would have to be willing to accept the contract terms set by insurance companies for their existing providers.
The Legislative Research Council recently completed the required review of a possible measure. The next step is whether to officially file it with the secretary of state and begin the petition drive for signatures.
The internal deadline for reaching that decision is probably the end of this month, according to Mike Shaw. He is a Pierre lawyer involved in the patient-choice effort.
A similar proposal was attempted in the 2013 session of the Legislature but failed on the final vote.
“Based on this support and the support of a growing number of citizens across the state, we are seriously exploring the options of an initiated measure including whether to circulate petitions. However at this time no final decision has been made,” Shaw said Monday.
Seeking the legislation in the 2013 session were Black Hills Medical Hospital of Rapid City and three statewide associations for chiropractors, optometrists and specialty care providers. Shaw was the chief lobbyist on the legislation.
Successful in blocking the change were lobbyists for Avera Health Plans and Sanford Health Services of Sioux Falls, Regional Health Care of Rapid City, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the statewide associations for healthcare organizations, independent insurance agents and school boards, Express Scripts and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Patient choice is one of two initiatives being considered for the 2014 ballot.
The other would raise the minimum wage in South Dakota. That proposal is backed by organized labor leaders and South Dakota Democratic Party officials.
The patient-choice proposal generated some public attention last winter during the Legislature’s debates on the issue. A statewide ballot measure would significantly expand the discussion.
If a petition drive proceeds, organizers will need to submit at least 15,855 valid signatures of South Dakota registered voters no later than Nov. 4 this year to make the 2014 ballot.
The number of signatures is equal to 5 percent of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, was prime sponsor of the legislation in the 2013 session. HB 1142 won approval in the House of Representatives 39-30 but ran into deep opposition in the Senate, where it lost 11-23.
Among the long line of opponents was the state Division of Insurance, a signal that Gov. Dennis Daugaard would have considered a veto to stop the bill if it had survived the Senate.