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Opponents ask court to disqualify dental insurance ballot Q

This article is more than 1 year old.

Opponents of a proposed ballot question that would cap dental insurer profits on Monday asked the state's highest court to disqualify it, arguing that it improperly combines extensive reporting mandates with spending breakdown requirements.

In a case that could determine whether voters get the final say over potential new insurance regulations, an attorney seeking the petition's derailment told the Supreme Judicial Court that it fails the "relatedness" test that bars ballot questions from combining disparate topics.

The text would require dental insurers to spend at least 83 percent of their premium dollars on "dental expenses and quality improvements, as opposed to administrative expenses," a so-called medical loss ratio designed to rein in the amount of patient money that insurance carriers pocket for themselves. Another section requires insurers to submit annual financial statements to state regulators that would cover other types of insurance beyond dental coverage.

Tad Heuer, a Foley Hoag attorney representing the two registered voters who challenged the potential question, said Monday that the more detailed reporting requirements target information unnecessary for the state to review and enforce a profit cap on dental insurance.

"They require extensive entity-wide insurance data that goes well beyond just dental insurance," he said.

Attorney General Maura Healey certified the proposal and allowed it to advance toward the November ballot, and her office contended in court that mandating broader data reporting would grapple with "potential knock-on effects" of imposing profit limits.

"It prevents them from shuffling overhead expenses from dental insurance to disability or life insurance in a way that would inflate other overhead expense lines while simultaneously decreasing the overhead expenses shown in dental insurance," said Assistant Attorney General Adam Hornstine.

The SJC probed attorneys representing Healey, the plaintiffs, and the question's main backer on whether the financial data would help better inform regulators in their oversight of dental insurers. Said Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt, "Isn't it important to know where you've been, where you are and where you're going in order to figure out whether the rate change is appropriate?"

"I get that there's something very useful about requiring insurance companies to produce all of their financial data. That's useful, but I also don't understand — that seems to me a very different proposition than monitoring dental rates," said Justice Scott Kafker, asking if the question would require voters to consider "two potentially good ideas, but separate."


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