Lawmakers and state officials say they’ll change the law on insurance premiums, in the wake of a controversial rate case involving Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Connecticut.
Anthem recently applied to raise rates for insurance policies bought by individuals in Connecticut by up to 32%. Although the Insurance Commissioner cut back that request, he did allow premium increases of up to 20%. The hikes were vehemently opposed by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who Wednesday voiced his frustration with the approval process.
"The supposed system of regulation to protect consumers is really a non-system. It’s non-regulation, non-oversight, non-scrutiny."
Anthem had justified the request by saying that claims costs were rising more steeply on individual policies. But Blumenthal says their figures don’t add up.
"In every one of the last three years, Anthem has made more than $215m from Connecticut alone, and yet it cries poverty to our regulators – and they believe Anthem."
Blumenthal was joined at a news conference by state healthcare advocate Kevin Lembo, who says the current system of regulation seems more concerned about protecting insurers profits than helping consumers.
"Anthem told us that it did not consider affordability in proposing the rates. The state insurance department told us that they do not consider affordability when approving a 20 plus percent rate increase. I’m happy to say that if things go well in the next legislative year, and from now on, affordability and value will be considered in the form of rate setting."
That’s because he’s backing legislation that will change the wording of the statute governing such rate cases. Currently insurers must merely prove that rate requests are not excessive, but that term is not closely defined. The new bill’s proponents want to see the wording changed to “reasonable”. Representative Steve Fontana is co-chair of the insurance and real estate committee in the general assembly.
"If you had any doubt that the private market can not meet the needs of average ordinary consumers, middle class families hard pressed by this economy, this is exhibit A. Between the lack of regulation and the lack of bargaining power, individual health insurance consumers are out there in the wild wild west – they’re on their own."
The bill would also require public hearings on rate cases, and allow other state officials to be part of the process.