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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske October 1, 2019

Rodman misstates Dunnavant's short-term health insurance bill

Del. Debra Rodman is telling voters that the quality of their health insurance is at risk if they re-elect Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico.

"Sen. Dunnavant wrote the Republican bill that would let insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions," Rodman, a Democrat, says in a TV ad launched Sept. 20.

Rodman made the same charge on at least three glossy mailers she sent to voters in late September. One of them particularly got the ire of Dunnavant, a physician. "What do you call a doctor who wrote a bill that would let insurers deny coverage for pre-existing conditions?" it asks. Next to the words is a picture of a duck with the caption "QUACK."

Dunnavant told the Richmond Times-Dispatch it is a "denigrating smear" to be called a quack. And on her website, she called Rodman’s charges about her bill "not accurate and completely misleading."

So we fact-checked Rodman’s claim that Dunnavant wrote a bill that would let insurance companies to "deny coverage for pre-existing conditions."

Rodman backs her statement by citing a bill Dunnavant introduced in January 2018 that initially would have required health insurance companies doing business with the state government or municipalities to participate in Virginia’s health benefit exchange.

At Dunnavant’s request, the bill was amended. The provision she originally sought was replaced by a measure she said would conditionally change Virginia’s law for short-term health insurance policies.

Short-term plans provide low-cost, limited-duration insurance that doesn’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. They don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions, prescriptions or maternity care and often come with high deductibles. Critics call them "junk insurance."

The Obama administration in 2016 issued a rule limiting short-term policies to 90 days to provide stop-gap policies to people who lost their health coverage and were waiting for enrollment periods to begin on the individual insurance market. Virginia’s insurance regulations were adjusted to the federal regulation.

President Donald Trump says the ACA is unconstitutional and should be abolished. In an effort to weaken the law, his administration announced in 2017 that it would change the rules on short-term policies to let them last for 364 days. 

Dunnavant’s amended bill - written with Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania - would have compelled Virginia to conform to the expected new federal regulation. Reeves said the lengthened policies would help Virginians without employer-provided insurance who had seen steep premium increases on their individual, ACA-compliant plans. 

In Virginia, the average premium for individual coverage in the ACA market is $796 a month, according to the State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance. That’s twice the cost in 2016. In contrast, some short-term plans are advertised for $50 a month

Dunnavant’s amended bill passed the Senate unanimously. Democrats opposed the measure in the House, arguing the extended policies would encourage Virginians to drop their ACA-compliant coverage for low-cost, high-risk plans. The bill passed the House on a partisan 51-46 vote. Gov. Ralph Northan, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation.

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In August 2018, the White House issued final rules that allow short-term plans to last 364 days and be renewed twice, meaning consumers could be insured by them for three years. In November, the state’s Bureau of  Insurance routinely conformed Virginia’s insurance regulations to the federal change without seeking General Assembly approval.

We repeat: State regulators adapted Virginia’s health insurance regulations to the federal change without General Assembly approval. State law allows the insurance bureau to do that. It’s standard practice, according to Ken Schrad, information director at the State Corporation Commission, which oversees the bureau.

In other words, Dunnavant’s and Reeves’ bill mandating the state to comply with changed federal regulations expanding short-term policies was unnecessary.

"These are federal decisions," said Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans. "The state doesn’t have a great role in controlling Obamacare."

All of this undermines Rodman’s claim that Dunnavant "wrote the Republican bill that would let insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions." Virginia insurers were already allowed to write 90-day short-term policies omitting pre-existing conditions and more. Dunnavant’s bill would have superfluously extended the period to 364-days to match expected new federal rules.

Rodman’s claim also lacks perspective: It suggests that any Virginian could be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions when, in fact, the regulation will affect few. About 79 percent of Virginians are insured by ACA-complaint plans - subsidized by their employers or the government with mandated coverage for pre-existing conditions, accoording SCC data. 

The remaining 21% percent is the pool most likely to consider short-term term insurance. Are those who opt in being "denied" pre-existing coverage, as Rodman contends, or making a free choice? We’ll leave that call to you.

Our ruling

Rodman misleadingly claims Dunnevant "wrote the Republican bill that would let insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions." 

Dunnavant opposes Obamacare. She sponsored an unsuccessful bill in 2018 that would have expanded inexpensive, short-term health insurance policies that don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions and many other medical circumstances. They are exempt from Obamacare standards. 

But contrary to Rodman’s claim, Dunnavant’s bill wouldn’t have "let" insurance companies sell short-term plans, they were already permitted to sell 90-day policies in Virginia in accordance with ACA rules. Dunnevant’s bill would have extended the coverage period to 364 days to comply with expected new federal rules - something the state regulators automatically do. would have done.

Rodman’s statement also suggests that anyone could have been denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. In fact, 79 percent of Virginians have ACA-compliant insurance, subsidized by their employers or the government, that mandates such coverage.

We rate Rodman’s dramatic claim False.


Our Sources

Debra Rodman, TV ad, Sept. 20, 2019.

Rodman, campaign mailers, Sept 19 and Sept. 26, 2019.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Mailer from Democrat Rodman calls Republican Sen. Dunnavant a ‘quack,’" Sept. 20, 2019. 

Dunnavant for Senate, "Setting the Record Straight: Short-term Health Plans," September 2019.

Legislative Information System, SB844, 2018 session.

Interview and email  with Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, Sept. 26, 2019.

Interview and email with Ken Schrad, director of Information Resources Division at the State Corporation Commission, Sept. 27, 2019.

The New York Times, "‘Short-term’ health insurance? Up to 3 years under new Trump policy," Aug. 1, 2018.


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