Public Hearing Held on Major Health Insurance Merger - 8 News NOW

Jonathan Humbert, Reporter

Public Hearing Held on Major Health Insurance Merger

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A potential merger between two major health insurance companies that would affect hundreds of thousands of Nevadans has critics worried about potential abuse. That merger would be between UnitedHealth Group and Sierra Health Services.

At a Friday public hearing, a packed room of politicians, practitioners and patients had a serious debate about health care and the impact of a possible monopoly.

"A monopoly is a monopoly no matter what face you put on it," said Carol Austin-Fink, cancer survivor.

Austin-Fink is a cancer survivor. She's against the merger because she says UnitedHealth denied her claims for jaw and mouth treatments after chemotherapy. But she's not the only one casting a critical eye.

"Nevada does not need a monopoly on insurance products. Nevada does not need health care providers stretched to the limit," said Speaker of the Assembly Barbara Buckley, who lent some political muscle to the meeting.

The state statistics bureau says the combined company would control 80 to 100-percent of the Medicare HMO market in Las Vegas. United says they would control 28-percent of the total commercial market.

UnitedHealth has issued a news release on what they say are the facts of the merger

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, who called for the public hearings said he was concerned about UnitedHealth's high market share.

"That's an absolute red flag, and that's one of the reasons why when you look at this proposal and you have to look at all of the facts," said Gov. Jim Gibbons.

He said a merger will likely go through and if it's not UnitedHealth, it would likely be someone else. Sierra Health Services is for sale. The president and CEO of Sierra, Jon Bunker, says this fight is a personal mission.

"This is my community. I was born here. I care about every single person that we insure," said Bunker. He fights the perception of a behemoth soulless corporation.

"I don't fret for one second that this merger brings about any kind of monopoly or decreased amount of competition for commercial and or Medicare insurance," Bunker said. And it's that sort of promise Buckley, Austin-Fink and Governor Gibbons hope will help Nevada's health care crisis.

The insurance commission has 30 days to rule on the merger.

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