Photo of State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri
Victoria Veltri Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror
Photo of State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri
State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri wants a rate hearing on Anthem\’s 2015 rate proposal. Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror
State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri wants a rate hearing on Anthem\’s 2015 rate proposal. Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror

Updated 5:00 p.m.

State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri has asked the Connecticut Insurance Department to hold a public hearing on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s proposal to raise premiums for its individual-market health plans by an average of 12.5 percent next year.

Veltri also urged Insurance Commissioner Thomas B. Leonardi to consider holding public hearings on all rate proposals filed by insurers offering coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange. ConnectiCare Benefits requested an 11.8 percent increase in its base rates and HealthyCT proposed decreasing its premiums by an average of 8.9 percent. UnitedHealthcare also proposed rates for plans that would be sold on the exchange’s individual market for the first time in 2015.

“Given the potential impact on consumers of the proposed rate adjustments and the need to ensure a sustainable health insurance exchange that offers affordable plans, ensuring an open hearing process on these filings is critical in my view to allow a full vetting of the concerns of all parties with regard to the contents of the filings,” Veltri wrote to Leonardi.

Veltri requested the hearing under the terms of a 2011 agreement that calls for the insurance commissioner to hold hearings at her request on proposals to raise rates by 15 percent or more.

Anthem’s proposal includes rate changes for 17 plans. While the overall average change is a 12.5 percent increase, five of the plans would have premium hikes above 15 percent under the proposal. The filing covers plans sold on and off the state’s health insurance exchange.

Deputy Insurance Commissioner Anne Melissa Dowling said the department is willing to hold a hearing.

But she added that the department doesn’t believe Veltri’s request meets the spirit of the 2011 agreement, which she said was meant to “afford a hearing opportunity” when the request was to raise the base rate by 15 percent or more.

Regardless of whether the department holds a public hearing, people can submit comments on rate proposals through the insurance department’s website.

But Veltri said having a public hearing can be more helpful because it allows people to hear answers to their questions.

“The openness would increase the public’s faith in the process, I think,” she said. “I just think people have a right to know how the process works.”

Veltri said she wasn’t singling out Anthem, but that it wasn’t clear from ConnectiCare’s rate filing how individual plans would be affected. The insurance department has requested additional information from the carrier.

Dowling noted that the insurance department posts on its website rate filings as well as correspondence between the agency and carriers, and that the public can provide input during the comment period. In addition, she said, insurance companies notify policyholders when they file rate increase requests because Leonardi requested they do so.

“The lack of complaints from the public relating to its ability to submit comments, and indeed the comments we do receive from the public on various rate filings, clearly indicates that the public is aware of its ability to comment and has not indicated a need for assistance,” said Dowling, who leads the insurance department’s health care efforts.

And Dowling said the federal government has identified the department as having an effective process for reviewing rate proposals.

The 2011 public hearing agreement grew out of negotiations between Leonardi, Veltri, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and Democratic lawmakers after Malloy vetoed a 2011 bill that would have made it easier for the healthcare advocate and attorney general to compel public “symposiums” on proposed health insurance rate hikes.

That followed a longstanding dispute between consumer advocates and the insurance department over the merits of public hearings on proposals to increase premiums.

Veltri said Friday that requesting the hearing is not a criticism of the insurance department, but an endorsement of having a public process.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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