Anthem Rate Hikes Just Tip Of Iceberg – Premiums Going Way Up In Six More States

February 18, 2010 2:00 a.m.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today will release a new report showing more dramatic health insurance premium increases are proposed in Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

Keying off the Obama administration’s recent probe into a planned 39 percent rate hike from Anthem Blue Cross in California, Sebelius will detail large increases in six other states and say that given record insurer profits, health care reform has never been more urgent.

At 11:30 a.m. today, Sebelius will release the report, obtained by TPMDC and titled “Insurance Companies Prosper, Families Suffer: Our Broken Health Insurance System.”

It finds that Anthem’s rate increase (now delayed until May) is “not unique” and that experts say premiums will keep rising.The report quotes National Association of Insurance Commissioners officials predicting the nation will “see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent.”

“These massive increases are disturbing examples of the problems that make reforming our health insurance system more important than ever,” the report states.

Among its specific findings:

Anthem of Connecticut requested an increase of 24 percent last year, which was rejected by the state.

Anthem in Maine had an 18.5-percent premium increase rejected by the state last year as being “excessive and unfairly discriminatory” – but is now requesting a 23-percent increase this year.

In 2009, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan requested approval for premium increases of 56 percent for plans sold on the individual market.

Regency Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon requested a 20-percent premium increase.
UnitedHealth, Tufts, and Blue Cross requested 13- to 16-percent rate increases in Rhode Island.

And rates for some individual health plans in Washington increased by up to 40 percent until Washington State imposed stiffer premium regulations.

The report finds that “[w]hile rising health care costs is a known problem with our broken health care system, some of the premium increases requested by insurance companies are 5 to 10 times larger than the growth rate in national health expenditures.”

It also seizes on an issue the administration has been pushing in recent weeks, saying that while prices went up, so did profits and CEO pay.

“[P]rofits for the ten largest insurance companies increased 250 percent between 2000 and 2009, ten times faster than inflation,” the report finds.

More from the report:

Last year, as working families struggled with rising health care costs and a recession, the five largest health insurance companies – WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana – took in combined profits of $12.2 billion, up 56 percent over 2008.

These health insurance companies’ profits grew even as nominal GDP decreased by 1 percent over this same time period.

And recent data show that the CEOs of America’s five largest insurers were each compensated up to $24 million in 2008.

The report lays out the case for reform and specifically how the bills passed by the House and Senate would demand transparency from insurers so they would need to account for administrative costs and profits as well as justify premium increases.

The Anthem hikes also have allowed Democrats and the administration to start up again with the drumbeat for a plan that includes competition.

Members of House Democratic leadership used Anthem as an example yesterday of why health care reform legislation must be completed.

“The situation in California is Exhibit A that we can expect more of the same if we do nothing,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). “There is no sign of things getting any better.”

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) said since the news broke about Anthem’s proposed 39 percent increases, her constituents approach her daily in Orange County and they tell her to “get this done.”

President Obama and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also have cited the increases when talking about the plans to finalize health care legislation at the health care summit next week.

The Energy and Commerce Committee plans hearings for next week and has asked Anthem parent company WellPoint’s CEO Angela Braly to testify.

Meanwhile, health care reform activists in New York are planning a march across the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday that would culminate in a rally outside of Anthem’s headquarters at Broadway and Liberty streets.

“Americans across the country are uniting to send a message to Washington: forget the special interests and get the job done,” the group wrote in a planning email.

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