Thanks for your recent article “Do public hearings influence what health insurance costs?” Given that Connecticut has the fourth highest healthcare costs and health insurance rates in the US, this is an especially important question for all of us.
As leaders in CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut), we have argued for public hearings as part of the rate review process for a number of years.
While Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri called for the recent Anthem hearing, our grassroots organization was part of the effort that forged the 2011 deal between Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi and Veltri to allow her to request up to four hearings a year when insurers filed for rate increases of 15 percent or greater.
We started out on this issue because of the numerous stories we heard from our member congregations and families about exorbitant rate increases. We pressed for hearings because we do believe that public hearings lead to more engaged and informed consumers, to heightened scrutiny by regulators, and to smaller rate increases being allowed for insurers.
While the final rates have yet to be approved, this seems to be likely in the Anthem case, given that the Insurance Department has rejected their initial filing.
We do not understand why public hearings themselves are under scrutiny, since this June hearing was the first one called under the 2011 agreement. Providing the opportunity for public testimony by those who are directly affected by proposed rate hikes is an integral part of a democratic society.
Public hearings are a routine and valued part of government decision-making for other quality-of-life issues including education and land allocation for housing and public space. Why would healthcare be viewed differently?
We also question the interpretation that some of the public comments were immaterial.
The Insurance Commissioner can deny approvals if he finds such amounts to be “excessive, inadequate or discriminatory.” In the past year, Anthem’s poor customer service regarding billing and insurance card issuance affected only those Connecticut residents who applied for Anthem coverage through the Access Health CT exchange. Could this not have been viewed as discriminatory, as affecting only those who were not receiving their Anthem health insurance through their employer?
Having public hearings allows the commissioner to hear specific consumer experiences that might cumulatively be considered discriminatory.
Finally, we think public hearings are a vital process because they attract the media’s attention while online public comment periods do not.
Media coverage in turn helps more consumers become aware of proposed rate increases. Although only a small number of people appeared at the hearing, there were approximately 140 comments posted online. Many of those comments no doubt were posted because of media coverage.
We commend the Department of Insurance for calling and conducting the recent hearing and rejecting Anthem’s initial rate filing. We urge the Department to continue to call for public hearings when new rate proposals appear potentially excessive or discriminatory to ensure robust public participation in the rate review process in the future.
Liz Keenan and Angie DeMello are co-chairs of the healthcare team for CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut)