By Dave Williams
ATLANTA - The Senate passed legislation Thursday that would set up an online service Georgia consumers could use to buy health insurance.
The measure, introduced on behalf of Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, was approved 42-12, mostly with the backing of GOP senators after Democrats complained it would open the door to high-deductible insurance lacking state-mandated coverages that apply to most plans.
The bill would establish a state authority to oversee an online health insurance "marketplace," a clearinghouse for prices and other information on various insurance options, from state-subsidized PeachCare to catastrophic coverage.
Supporters said such a wide variety of options would lead to greater consumer choice and help reduce the 1.7 million Georgians without health insurance.
Insurance premiums are getting so high that businesses are being forced either to shop for less expensive high-deductible coverage for their employees or stop offering insurance altogether, said Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland).
"It doesn't cover everything," he said. "[But] if we don't offer a less expensive policy, they won't have any coverage at all."
But Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said the state shouldn't get into the business of pushing inadequate insurance plans that fool consumers into thinking they're protected, and trick lawmakers into believing they've solved the problem.
"The illusion of coverage these plans offer is dangerous," she said.
Republicans amended the bill to require that all insurance plans sold on the new authority's web site cover ovarian and colorectal cancer screenings and tests for diabetes, prostate cancer, pap smears and mammograms.
But GOP senators beat back an attempt by Democrats to mandate coverage for prescribed female contraceptives, complications of pregnancy and hospital stays after delivery.
The legislation now moves to the House.