Read more agency year in review blog posts.Like Governor Tom Wolf on Facebook: Facebook.com/GovernorWolf By: Teresa Miller, Insurance Commissioner SHARE Email Facebook Twitter BLOG: Protecting Pennsylvania’s Consumers January 13, 2016 Efficiency, Government That Works, The Blog, Year in Review Since taking office, Governor Wolf and I have set consumer protection as the Insurance Department’s top priority. A big part of helping consumers is letting them know that we are here as a resource for them, and under Governor Wolf’s direction, we have substantially increased our consumer outreach.There were many times throughout 2015 where Governor Wolf and I took an active stand in order to put consumers first and protect them from future harm.Keeping Rates LowI’m also very proud of the work done by my department in reviewing individual and small group health insurance rates this year to ensure that we balanced the needs of the companies involved without placing too much burden on consumers through drastic rate increases. My department was able to save Pennsylvania’s consumers nearly $81 million – an outcome that wasn’t the case in all other states. I’m glad we can tell that story here.CHIPShortly after taking office, we addressed an issue where families enrolled in the full-cost CHIP program were facing tax penalties, because these plans did not meet minimum essential coverage standards dictated by the Affordable Care Act. We worked quickly to bring these plans up to MEC standards and obtained waivers so these families would avoid the tax penalty. Under the direction of Governor Wolf, we brought the remaining CHIP plans up to MEC standards so that more than 150,000 Pennsylvania children enrolled in the program could enjoy improved benefits and coverage standards.Highmark/UPMCThe Insurance Department is also continuing to play a role in protecting consumers affected by the consent decrees signed by Highmark and UPMC in 2014. My department supported Governor Wolf’s decision to go to court in order to protect the access of more than 180,000 seniors in western Pennsylvania to the doctors and hospitals of their choice, by requiring UPMC to stay in Highmark’s Medicare Advantage program, consistent with the terms of the consent decrees.Saving Consumers MoneyAway from the health side, we’ve taken a stand against unfair pricing tactics like the “widow’s penalty” and price optimization – a practice that occurs when insurers consider factors unrelated to expected losses and expenses, such as a customer’s likelihood to shop around for a better price, when setting rates. I issued notices to insurers to remind them that these practices are unfairly discriminatory and my department will not authorize rates that impose costs where additional risk can’t be proven.We’re also continuing to pursue other consumer protection issues, including surprise balance billing, which occurs when patients receive a bill for a service received at an in-network facility with an in-network provider but encounter an out-of-network provider at some point during care.What’s Next?These accomplishments demonstrate the Wolf Administration’s strong commitment to putting consumers first through increasing access to health insurance, ensuring consumers are treated fairly by companies, and educating the public on issues so consumers have the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.As we move into 2016, we’re going to continue to focus on finding solutions to issues that affect consumers every day.Find Us OnlineOver the summer, we revamped the Insurance Department website to make it much more user-friendly, and we’re making good use of this new platform to reach and educate consumers. We regularly update it with consumer alerts focused on seasonal tips or issues we hear of from consumers, and we’re producing more educational content, such as our videos and shopper’s guide to using and purchasing health insurance, to help consumers make educated and empowered choices.We’ve also joined social media, so head over to Facebook.com/PAInsuranceDepartment or follow us on Twitter @PAInsuranceDept.We’re going to work to become a more visible force in communities around the commonwealth. I want Pennsylvania consumers to know that we’re here as a resource and to connect with consumers in their own environments, and I strongly encourage you to contact us if you have any issues or concerns via our Consumer Services Bureau at 1-877-881-6388 or through our contact form at insurance.pa.gov
The East appears to be No. 1 Duke’s. The bottom half of the region features the three teams that could upset Duke in No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 LSU and No. 7 Louisville. Ultimately, Michigan State will probably claw its way into the Elite Eight after getting past Bradley, Louisville and then LSU, but will run out of steam against Duke. In particular, the Midwest appears to be the toughest region in this year’s tournament. North Carolina headlines the division as the one seed, but it also features major college basketball powerhouses in Kentucky and Kansas, as well as sleeper teams like fifth seed Auburn. The match between Virginia and Auburn is a harder one to pick. While Auburn has been doing well recently, Virginia is still recovering from a disappointing ACC Championship Tournament. However, Auburn has a tough run just to get into the Final Four and is by no means a lock to get out of the Midwest. In recent years, Virginia has had an elite team, but it has failed to deliver in the tournament. This year is its time to change people’s minds. The South Region also has a good mixture of some top-seeded teams and sleepers, including Virginia, which headlines the group as the top seed. It recently lost to Florida State by 10 points in the ACC tournament, but it has had a strong season, only losing three times this season. It’s dangerous to pick a team from the east as the winner of the tournament because there are many capable of coming out of it. This region is just too good, and will be a total grind for whoever wins it. While North Carolina has had an impressive season with major victories and an elite coach, I opted for Auburn to win out of this region. It easily beat Tennessee in the SEC final — momentum I think they will carry forward. Robby Aronson is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “The Bottom Line,” runs every other Wednesday. On the other side, Tennessee can definitely make a run as the No. 2 seed. The team lost to Auburn by 20 points in the SEC finals, but defeated Kentucky the day before. Experience is an important factor in the tournament. Its starting lineup against Auburn consisted of three juniors and two seniors. One of the hottest teams in the country, Auburn is now in the spotlight after winning the SEC Tournament. In the past, teams coming into March with momentum generally continue to ride the wave in the tournament. Moreover, Seton Hall, a No. 10 seed, narrowly lost to defending champion Villanova in the Big East tournament. That leaves a Final Four of Duke vs. Michigan and Virginia vs. Auburn. Duke’s easy run in the West Region makes them the favorite against Michigan. Ultimately the team has more stars on the court in RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson, and they should beat the Wolverines comfortably in that game. Barring an upset, these two teams in Tennessee and Virginia are likely to face off in the Elite Eight. While the game might end up being close, Virginia has been one of the best teams all season and are desperate to make amends for its loss last year in the first round of the tournament as the No. 1 team in the country. The West Region also contains last season’s runner-up in the tournament, No. 2 Michigan. Many Michigan players have good tournament experience, and the program has an elite tournament pedigree. While potential matchups between No. 7 Nevada and No. 3 Texas Tech may be tricky, Michigan’s experience from last year should give the team an edge and help it reach the Final Four again. This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament has some intriguing matchups that will determine who will participate in the Final Four. Some regions on paper will be tougher than others. Whenever I make my bracket for March Madness, I typically over-analyze every statistic to determine the winning team. In the past, I’ve looked at factors like the team’s free-throw percentage, rebounding and age to settle on my winning pick. But this year is different. The ACC tournament showed that Zion Williamson transcends college basketball. Duke will win. The bottom line? Stars win championships. My final prediction is that Duke and Virginia will face each other in the final round. Both teams have played each other twice this year and have split the series with one win a piece. However, on the big stage in the ACC tournament with everyone watching, Zion Williamson came up big and put up tremendous numbers on both sides of the floor. True stars shine the brightest in the biggest games, and ultimately, Zion Williamson will carry Duke to yet another championship. As the weakest link, the West is up for grabs. No. 1 seed Gonzaga recently lost to St. Mary’s in the West Conference Tournament finals by scoring just 46 points. While they beat Duke earlier in the season, the Bulldogs have upset potential written all over them. In the second round, Gonzaga will potentially face Syracuse, which also defeated the Blue Devils this season, and I predict a Syracuse win.