CT insurance customers urge regulators to reject rate hikes

Dozens of Connecticut insurance customers have urged state regulators to reject proposals to raise rates next year.

“This is unbelievable. A rate increase of 10% on a government mandated insurance?” a ConnectiCare customer wrote in a comment submitted to the Connecticut Insurance Department. “My monthly rate is already $433.48.”

“Can you give us a break? I’m trying to provide the best health care for my kids and you make it more difficult each year!” another customer wrote. “I might as well just drop insurance altogether. This is so discouraging.”

“This increase would probably make me opt to pay the fine for not having insurance,” an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield customer wrote.

The insurance department published comments on three companies’ proposed rate hikes in advance of next Monday’s public hearing on the proposals. Anthem is seeking to raise rates by an average of 4.7 percent on plans that cover 55,000 people, while ConnectiCare is seeking a 9.8 percent rate hike for plans that cover 34,400 people. Golden Rule, which covers 3,414 people, has proposed an 18.5 percent rate increase.

The rate increases subject to the hearing are for plans sold through the state’s individual market and, if approved, would take effect Jan. 1, 2016. Some of Anthem’s plans are sold through the state’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, while all of the ConnectiCare and Golden Rule plans subject to the hearing are sold outside the exchange.

Several people who submitted comments said they wouldn’t be able to afford the proposed premiums and expressed frustration that insurance costs rise faster than wages. Most comments were published without writers’ names.

“If I can get a pay increase to sustain me with [this] insurance premium increase then ok. Maybe you should talk to my employer. Let me know how that works out,” a ConnectiCare customer wrote.

“Whoever allows this rate increase to occur will cause my family to sink farther into debt until we can no longer afford health insurance at all. Not only will we be forced to pay a penalty, but we will have to avoid seeking healthcare for what could be serious issues,” wrote an Anthem customer who pays nearly $300 per month for a plan that is subsidized by the federal government.

Affordability has been a key theme among people who have testified at past health insurance rate hearings. But insurance department officials have noted in the past that state law gives them narrow parameters for considering a rate hike. In a decision last year that called for Anthem to reduce its proposed rate hike, insurance department actuary Paul Lombardo noted that state law allows the insurance commissioner to reject rates for three reasons: if they’re inadequate, excessive, or unfairly discriminatory.

One commenter suggested that Anthem’s proposal should be considered excessive since health care inflation has been below 3 percent in the U.S. for the past two years.

In their filings, insurers cited expectations that the cost of covering health care claims would rise in 2016, particularly for prescription drugs.

A consulting firm, Wakely Consulting Group, submitted comments on the Anthem proposal on behalf of Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange. The comments were based on the company’s initial filing, which has since been revised. Wakely suggested that the assumptions behind Anthem’s proposal were “somewhat conservative,” and recommended that some factors that contributed to the rate increase be removed, while others be backed up with more details.

Many of those who submitted comments said they have not seen rising prices matched by better coverage or service. Many noted that they have high-deductible plans that require them to pay thousands of dollars toward their care before the insurer begins chipping in.

“If I were to become ill, even with a minor ailment, it will still leave me in financial distress despite having insurance,” one customer wrote.

“This insurance plan that I was forced to take by our [government] is not working for me. But yet I’m being forced to have it. Now the rate is going up. I have no source of action. There is nothing I can do but to urge you not to let this increase happen,” Anthem customer James F. Moraveck Jr. wrote.

Other commenters took aim at insurance company executive salaries.

“Ask their CEO’s to take a salary and bonus cut instead,” an Anthem customer wrote.

“When I read about CEO’s multi-million-dollar packages and insurance company’s rate increases, my blood boils,” wrote another customer. “I am in the healthcare business as a provider and daily learn how families have to opt out of getting their child’s medication or recommended surgery because of the high deductibles and decreased coverage.”

Golden Rule’s proposal generated only one comment: “Do not increase their rates.”

Proposed 2016 rate hikes
These are the premium increases insurance companies are seeking for plans sold to individuals in 2016. Some are sold through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, while others are sold outside the exchange.
Company Proposal On/off exchange People covered
Aetna 5.60% Off 7,291
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield 4.70% Both 55,000
Celtic 15.95% Off 0
Cigna 14.27% Off 660
ConnectiCare Benefits 0.70% On 39,850
ConnectiCare Inc. 5.00% Off 435
ConnectiCare Insurance Co. 9.80% Off 34,400
Golden Rule 18.50% Off 3,414
HealthyCT 3.43% Both 23,485
UnitedHealthcare 11.40% On 1,686
UnitedHealthcare 32.90% Off 712
Connecticut Insurance Department

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