Individual insurance rates soar in 4 states

Individual insurance rates soar in 4 states (AP)
In this Oct. 27, 2003 file photo, employees enter the headquarters of Anthem Inc. in Indianapolis. Anthem Blue Cross, a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc., has been under fire for a week from regulators and politicians for notifying some of its 800,000 individual policyholders in California that it plans to raise rates by up to 39 percent March 1. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP) -- Consumers in at least four states who buy their own health insurance are getting hit with premium increases of 15 percent or more - and people in other states could see the same thing.

Anthem Blue Cross, a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc., has been under fire for a week from regulators and politicians for notifying some of its 800,000 individual policyholders in California that it plans to raise rates by up to 39 percent March 1.

The Anthem Blue Cross plan in Maine is asking for increases of about 23 percent this year for some individual policyholders. Last year, they raised rates up to 32 percent.

Kansas had one recent case where one insurer wanting to raise most individual rates 20 percent to 30 percent was persuaded by state insurance officials to reduce the increases to 10 percent to 20 percent. The insurance department would not identify the company but said it was not Anthem.

And in Oregon, multiple insurers were granted rate hikes of 15 percent or more this year after increases of around 25 percent last year for customers who purchase individual , rather than getting it through their employer.

Premiums are far more volatile for individual policies than for those bought by employers and other large groups, which have bargaining clout and a sizable pool of people among which to spread risk. As more people have lost jobs, many who are healthy have decided to go without health insurance or get a bare-bones, high-deductible policy, reducing the amount of premiums insurers receive.

Steep rate hikes in this sliver of the insurance market - about 13 million Americans, as of 2008 - have popped up sporadically for years. Experts see them becoming increasingly common.

"You're going to see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent" for individual health policies in the near term, Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the health insurance and managed care committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, predicted Friday.

Most states don't have the legal authority to block or reduce health insurance rate increases, Praeger noted.

"When you see stories like (Anthem's), you can almost guarantee there's going to be increased consumer protection activity" in state legislatures, she said.

Her group doesn't track rates state by state, but Praeger said it likely will start doing so, "if we don't get any kind of meaningful reform at the federal level."

Politicians and even some health insurers, including Anthem, are urging a revival of the stalled effort in Congress to overhaul the health care system, arguing everyone needs to be covered by health insurance in order to prevent such premium spikes.

In Maine, where Anthem dominates the market, its proposal has several consumer groups planning big rallies at two public hearings on the rates, on Feb. 22 and 24.

Under Anthem's proposal, a family of four could be charged up to $1,876 per month if the proposed rates are allowed to take effect in July.

"The rate request should be denied on its face. It's outrageous," said Greg Howard, spokesman for Maine Change That Works. "We are in the middle of ... this record-breaking type of recession, and they're doing what they need to guarantee profit margin."

On Friday, Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree and Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell wrote to two congressmen who have scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing on Anthem's pending rate hikes in California, asking them to also look into the proposed hike in Maine.

"We frankly have been very frustrated by the size of these increases," Pingree told The Associated Press. "Obviously, they are attempting to price certain people out of the market."

Last year, Maine's Superintendent of Insurance Mila Kofman rejected Anthem's initial requests, which would have increased individual rates an average of 18.5 percent. She allowed an average increase of 10.9 percent, with the highest increase at 32.4 percent.

Anthem sued the state. Oral arguments in the case are to be scheduled before the Maine Superior Court for mid-March.

Anthem spokesman Chris Dugan said Friday evening the company wants the court to review Kofman's decision because it didn't allow the company an operating profit. He said the rates requested for 2010 are needed "to make sure that we have adequate resources to cover the remaining members" in the insurance plans.

WellPoint, based in Indianapolis, has said it needs to raise rates so much because the weak economy has resulted in fewer people remaining in the individual market in California, and many who do have serious health problems. It says costs of caring for them have been rising due to higher provider prices and more use of diagnostic tests.

In Oregon, state insurance officials have concluded that rising costs justify the higher individual premiums, particularly because most insurers cut rates too much in 2006 and then got hit with significant losses. So double-digit increases, some 25 percent or higher, have been approved, or reduced a bit from 2007 to 2010.

Insurance Division spokeswoman Cheryl Martinis said the agency has started posting details of all proposed increases on its Webspace site and e-mailing customers want a proposal comes in so they can comment.

"People are extraordinarily upset in Oregon, as they are nationwide, about health care costs," she said.

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Feb 13, 2010
Yes, and how's that tea-party stuff working for ya (wink)

Feb 13, 2010
..,and ol' Brer Rabbit, he say: " you can raise my premiums all you want, just so long as you don't go an' throw me into that Healthcare Reform Patch!"

Feb 13, 2010
Now if these people could buy health insurance across state lines and buy cheaper insurance they could save money, oh wait its not legal to do that.

Feb 14, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Feb 15, 2010
As long as Obama and the democrats are in power, we will never be able to buy cheap insurance across state lines. So my rates will stay high.

Feb 15, 2010
1. Abolish the anti-trust exemptions
2. Abolish limits on lifetime payments
3. Abolish pre-exiting condition limits
Three things that Obama wants and the republicans say they want, but vote against. Why is that? My "guess" is that the republicans are so petty they cannot allow ANY legislation to pass that might help, and that they are in the pockets of the big insurance businesses. Also, why do we pay insurance companies for health care when we should cut them out and go straight to the doctors?

Feb 15, 2010
Yes, it is only too apparent at this point that our elected "Representatives" -or at least a sufficiency of them- actually represent corporate interests over the interests of the individual citizens that voted them into office.
Health care reform is a no-brainer. Universal healthcare is the ideal solution, but apparently it sticks in the craw of capitalist sympathisers(vast numbers of them the very ones at risk of having their own coverage denied or revoked- mind you) that profits would be removed from the income streams of a small number of corporate beneficiaries(owners and officers[salary+bonus]).
Loss of profitability is viewed as the Greater Evil here(not loss or restriction of healthcare!) I the only one that feels the sensation of cognitive dissonance? My ability to obtain necessary healthcare is dependent on the profit/loss calculus of a bloated, monstrous, amoral Private Insurance Industry?

Good luck to us all then...

Feb 15, 2010
Being a citizen of Canada and a resident of USA who buys private insurance I can tell you the present US system is better if your sick and need medical help and the Canadian better if your healthy.
GDM, the healthcare proposed by Obama needs to be opposed it is the most stupidest healthcare legislation ever proposed. One that the Obama couldn't pass even though democrats had a super majority senate and congress.

Feb 15, 2010
Ever wonder why in almost all states, there are only a very small -if not just a single- private insurance carrier?

Feb 15, 2010

In the last couple of months I've looked into getting new health insurance. My broker said it was government regulation prevents me from buying cheaper insurance out of state.

In Canada my ability to obtain necessary heathcare was dependent on the whims of a bloated, monstrous, amoral government insurance. Waiting 9 months for an MRI (It would have taken longer except I knew how to get faster service.)

Currently here in the US I can pay for any health care I want, get insurance to pay for health care, or have charity pay for my health care.

In Canada, Unless I'm a sports star or a Premier of a province, the only way to get health care is wait in cue and hope that the government grants me the opportunity for health care it deems acceptable.

Feb 15, 2010
Again: 1. Abolish the anti-trust exemptions. That is why you were prevented from buying cheaper insurance. So, let's abolish that law. The GOP wants it abolished, right? So does Obama. Why has it not been done? Well, maybe the upcoming Healthcare "summit" with the GOP will shed some light on that.

Feb 15, 2010

In canada, you, AND EVERY OTHER CITIZEN is entitled to healthcare. Let's contrast that with America, where(with the exception of the very poor, the elderly, and the disabled)- your access to healthcare is based solely on your ability to pay for private, for-profit, health insurance. This is assuming, of course, that they allow you that privelege. If you have, for instance, a chronic health issue such as back problems, diabetes, MS(the list is virtually enless) you are just shit out of luck, buddy, unless you have a very large bank account. So- what to do, let those nearly 50 million who cannot afford to pay those ever-increasing premiums just do without?

Feb 16, 2010
Caliban, what good is healthcare if you cant access it like in Canada, Year for hip replacement, 9 months to a year (personal experience) to get an MRI, cant find a doctor in a major city taking patients (again personal experience.)

The 50 million is an exagerated claim. 10+ million are illigals (criminal)aliens who shouldn't be in the US at all according to the law. Additionally millions more have the money like me to buy health insurance but choose not to. Most others are covered under medicare et al.

I know people who have brain cancer, back problems, high bp who have insurance.

Ever increasing premium is a problem. So according to GDM lets make a single law (Dems and Repubs should agree) to abolish anti-trust exemptions. Dems are in complete control if its not done its their fault. Write a single page law and make sure everyone reads it.

If Dems are interested in health care, write single page laws to reduce costs one page at a time.

Feb 16, 2010
Ever wonder why in almost all states, there are only a very small -if not just a single- private insurance carrier?
Not really.

They're all part of one of 4 core insurance companies who, with the Federal Government, outlined legislation allowing them to divide up their fiefdoms evenly by preventing cross state insurance sales. Along came ready steady Teddy Kennedy and the HMO arrangement was born, along with non-competitive rate sharing, lax coverage rules, lax declaration statements, low coverage limit, limited appeals processes, and everyone's favorite: anti-trust exemption.
If Dems are interested in health care, write single page laws to reduce costs one page at a time.


The best way to untangle your powercords is to unplug them one at a time and untangle them one at a time. Laws are much the same.

Feb 16, 2010
It is revealing that every regulation of private insurance is derided as "government interference"- of the inept, obstructive kind- even though, as S.H. notes above, they are largely engineered to the industry's benefit, and, at the same time, attempts to create an alternative to the for-profit model are a "takeover".
Belief in either or both of these premises is sure to have one effect: no reform. No reform means that premiums continue to rise, and people continue to be denied coverage because of the "adverse risk" they represent to insurors, or due to simple inability to afford premiums. No change means that more people will be uninsured, and will ultimately have to resort to emergency care, which cost will ultimately be defrayed by the taxpayer = higher taxes for all(unless, of course, you make so much money that you don't have to pay taxes).

Feb 16, 2010
The one-at-a-time approach to law making is entirely too slow, and all too often is used for political purposes- to stall proposed legislation- just as the filibuster has lately come to be abused for the same purpose.
Since the Republican- controlled Legislature and Administration somehow failed to EVEN INTRODUCE for a vote ANY healthcare(much less financial industry)reform during their 8 years as the majority, one has to wonder why they felt no need to do so. Could it be that they lacked any sense of urgency on behalf of their constituents? That perhaps this is an area for which they feel no concern?
Sadly, I don't think that the rest of us can afford to wait for them to suddenly develop an interest in getting any reform measures voted into law.

Feb 18, 2010
The one-at-a-time approach to law making is entirely too slow, and all too often is used for political purposes- to stall proposed legislation- just as the filibuster has lately come to be abused for the same purpose.

You call it gridlock, I call it checks and balances.

Passing legislation shouldn't be an all or nothing exercise and abused for the purposes of making someone appear heartless as has been the case in the past.

For prime example, the Healthcare legislation that was recently passed has more line items that do not involve healthcare than clauses of merit or pertinence.

If you remove the ability for obfuscation, you'll reengage the people in the legislative process. Isn't that what Democracy and Representative Republics are all about?

Feb 18, 2010
California- Medi-cal
Maine- Maine Care
Kansas- Kansas State Medicare
Oregon- Oregon State Family Insurance

All socialized medical states. Massachusetts, another insurance for all state, has recorded a $3000 cost increase for all insured. Socialized insurance breeds higher costs for all.

Feb 18, 2010
Fact remains, that 8 years passed without any effort at reform from the reps. which is a fact that goes too often without mention. During the time of the republican majorities, they could have introduced healthcare reform in their own image, with all the features they claim would enhance coverage, quality of care, and cost savings. Unfortunately there is no will on the part of republicans to reform healthcare, as that would harm their portfolios, or reduce their bonuses. As is all too usual, the only concern displayed is for the level of profit- and anywhere that the interests of US citizens diverge from $$$$$, then profit, of course, takes precedence.

Feb 18, 2010
And don't say that these are "Socialized Medicine States" they are mandated coverage. Which is to say, you must have insurance. The majority of that coverage is provided by PRIVATE INSURORS- as in "FOR PROFIT"- and, Surprise! the lower the cost of the coverage you "choose"- the higher the deductible, higher the copay, out-of-pocket costs, and restriction of covered products/services. A very profitable model for the insurance industry. And one that virtually guarantees that cost increases. These reform efforts don't address the central issue. This is where the notion of the Public Option comes in- ALL the money you pay in premiums go to the cost of care(minus admin),without having to service the superfluous burden of profit.
The sad truth is that people like to think that they are special, and forget that were it not for the accident of birth, they would be living in someone else's shoes-and they most likely wouldn't be Gucci loafers.

Feb 18, 2010
Caliban, the only successful medicare and medicaid reforms in the country have come from the Republican side of the fence. Medicare Part D anyone?

Feb 18, 2010
So, once we've got a Public, not-for-profit option, that uses premiums to pay for healthcare- instead of CEO bonuses/shareholder dividends- I wonder how long people will continue to spend their healthcare dollars on "superior" private insurance plans.

Feb 19, 2010
So, once we've got a Public, not-for-profit option, that uses premiums to pay for healthcare- instead of CEO bonuses/shareholder dividends- I wonder how long people will continue to spend their healthcare dollars on "superior" private insurance plans.

They'll probably spend MORE on private healthcare plans.

Simply look at every foreigner that comes to the US for care, there's a reason for it. Our healthcare practices are the best in the world, the wait is the shortest, the amount available is the greatest. For these great things you must pay a price, and so our healthcare is the most expensive and the most bureaucratic.

The public option will do nothing more than make Healthcare a greatly strained entity. I can't see MY doctor for a physical unless I schedule it 4 to 5 months ahead of time.

In the UK that wait is a year.
In Canada that wait is up to 2 years depending on your age.

So what do you think of that? I've lived under all 3, US is the best of them.

Feb 19, 2010
I've lived under Canada, German (private not public) and US system. The private system is the best. I was told of horror stories while I lived in Germany about the public option there.

Who Cares if the Republicans did or didnt move on health care. The Democrats have complete control of the house, senate and the presidency, and all they can come up with is a 1000+ pages of garbage most of which has nothing to do with healthcare, and actually worsens healthcare.

I hate the we must do something even if its worse mentality. I like the phrase think, do, act. The democrats have no excuse for not thinking.

Since I'm not a republican, if the Repubs did the same garbage I would say the same thing. Would you?

One page at a time works if you have no agenda and like transparancy.

Feb 19, 2010
Since I'm not a republican, if the Repubs did the same garbage I would say the same thing. Would you?
Absolutely. I'm an independent, and hate both parties, but I only find fault where it exists. Can you say the same Caliban?

ie: The current fiscal crisis is cleary a bipartisan product of Nixon's ERISA law, Carter's Family lending act, Clinton's support of the Banking referendum on home mortgages, Bush's disregard for the slow draw down of tightening fiscal reserves.

It was fixed by the first TARP act, however, the first TARP act was TOO large and did not address the potential anti-trust issue of large scale multinational banking establishments, this is due to bi-partisan congressional bow downs and other special interest fellatiotic manuvers.

Feb 19, 2010
Regardless of one's political views on healthcare reform, you've got to marvel at the brazen shamelessness of these private insurers, to raise their premium rates by so much in this political environment. It's almost like they're begging to have their private insurance playground taken away from them.

Feb 19, 2010
Unfortunately, they are betting on the fix being in. At least on this issue, I have to agree with skep and free that this financial meltdown was a product of about 30 years of steady dismantling of regulation by both parties. Where I disagree, however, is that we should allow the business of repair to be stalled by political manouevering. What has become only too apparent through all this is that our lawmaking system is under the near total control of our corporate overlords- and I hope that those that we elected who choose, in dereliction of duty, to serve Mammon, burn long and hot in the deepest pit of Hell.

Feb 19, 2010
Regarding the Public option, however- amusing that people are so rabidly against it. Why?

It is OPTIONAL-you don't have to buy into it.

It is self-funded(as in, you have to BUY INTO IT), just like private insurance.

It provides coverage for people who would have to do without private insurance because of cost or "uninsurability".

So why all the Hatin' from the anti-PO crowd? I'll tell you why: they fear- and rightly, too- that so many people will switch to the PO, that the risk pools of private insurers will shrink significantly, and we all know what that means: HIGHER PREMIUMS! Also deductibles, copays, out of pockets, and coverage contraction.
And why would the beneficent patrons of the GREATEST AND BEST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD do such a cold, heartless thing to their innocent, trusting policy holders? Because they're in it for PROFIT- not because they give TWO HOOTS IN HELL(appropriate, don't you think?) about the condition of your health OR wallet!

Feb 19, 2010
Caliban are you saying there was less regulation 30 years ago on banks and insurance companies?

I was under the impression there are more now. More regulation, More mandates.

Feb 19, 2010
Sorry about the ALL CAPS- not shouting, just trying to provide emphasis.

Feb 19, 2010
No, free- I maintain just the reverse. Ever heard, for instance, of Glass-Steagal? Now gone the way of the buffalo. The Gramm-Rudman Act was enacted to remove the last bits of regulation that still remained in effect from it(G-S).

Feb 20, 2010
Caliban is right about banking and insurance regulation. The only truly new regulation is the one that prohibits banks and insurance from discriminating in the products they offer on the basis of race. Banking and insurance regulations, especially in terms of separating speculative investing from commercial lending, and prohibiting banks and investment firms from also being insurance companies for themselves and their competitors, have all been seriously weakened or outright repealed starting in the 80's. And every time we role back those regulations, we get a commodities bubble followed by a financial crisis. One of these days, we'll learn that you can't trust people with other people's money, most especially you can't trust private, for-profit bankers and insurers.

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