Supreme Court granted summary judgment to plaintiff health insurer on the ground that certain portions of Insurance Law section 4308 constituted an unconstitutional impairment of contract rights. The Third Department determined summary judgment should not have been granted (on grounds unrelated to a determination of constitutionality). In the course of the decision, the court explained the constitutional analytical criteria:
Plaintiff is a not-for-profit health insurer that offers various types of health insurance to its subscribers, including – insofar as is relevant here – community-rated, large-group insurance and health maintenance organization policies. Historically, insurers such as plaintiff were required to obtain prior approval from the Superintendent of Insurance1 before increasing or decreasing premium rates (see Insurance Law former § 4308 [c] …). In 1995, however, the Legislature replaced this system with a “file and use” methodology, whereby insurers could increase or decrease premiums at their discretion, so long as the “anticipated incurred loss ratio” for the affected insurance pool fell within statutory minimum and maximum percentages… . If the actual loss ratio fell below the statutory minimum, the insurer was required to “issue a refund to its subscribers or credit a dividend against future premiums”; if the actual loss ratio exceeded the statutory maximum, the insurer “increase[d] its premium rates accordingly”… .
In response to growing concerns that steady increases in premium rates were making health insurance less affordable, the Legislature amended Insurance Law § 4308 again in 2010 (see L 2010, ch 107, § 2) – reinstating the prior approval requirement and setting the minimum loss ratio for all coverage pools at 82% loss ratio for its large-group coverage pools fell below the 82% requirement. As a result, defendant Superintendent of Financial Services directed that plaintiff issue refunds or credits totaling $3,349,976 to policyholders enrolled in community-rated large-group contracts. * * *
US Constitution, article I, § 10 provides that “[n]o [s]tate shall . . . pass any . . . [l]aw impairing the [o]bligation of [c]ontracts.” The prohibition contained in the Contract Clause, however, is not absolute, as states “retain the power to safeguard the vital interests of [their] people” … . “Thus, the [s]tate may impair [private] contracts by subsequent legislation or regulation so long as it is reasonably necessary to further an important public purpose and the measures taken that impair the contract are reasonable and appropriate to effectuate that purpose” … . Analysis of a claimed Contract Clause violation “require[s] consideration of three factors: (1) whether the contractual impairment is in fact substantial; if so, (2) whether the law serves a significant public purpose, such as remedying a general social or economic problem; and, if such a public purpose is demonstrated, (3) whether the means chosen to accomplish this purpose are reasonable and appropriate”… . Healthnow New York Inc … v NYS Insurance Dept, 516179, 3rd Dept 10-17-13