The Connecticut Citizens Action Group demonstrated against proposed insurance rate hikes in front of the Legislative Office Building on August 21, 2023. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

Frustrated residents, advocates and elected officials demanded Monday that state insurance regulators turn down double-digit rate hikes recommended by insurance companies for 2024 health plans on and off Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act Exchange.

Carriers have asked for an average increase of 12.4% on individual health plans and 14.8% on small group policies next year. The filings collectively cover about 188,000 people.

[RELATED: CT insurers seek health insurance rate increases on 2024 plans]

This is the second year insurers have sought substantial rate hikes. Last year, the companies requested an average increase of 20.4% on individual plans and 14.8% on small group policies. The insurance department ultimately approved average increases of 12.9% on individual plans and 7.9% on small group.

Speaking at a public hearing at the state’s Legislative Office Building Monday, Isabelle Barbour said she was stuck with a bill of more than $34,000 after her child needed inpatient care at Middlesex Hospital, despite having two types of insurance coverage. Through tears, she urged insurance department leaders to dismiss the proposed rate increases.

“These are people’s lives. These are people’s children. These are people’s families. These are not just actuarials,” she said. “I am not the only person to have these things happen at a time when they are in crisis. … Reject the rate hikes.”

Tenaya Taylor of Hartford said she’s already dealing with the burden of paying for care related to endometriosis and dental procedures. She encouraged state officials not to raise rates.

“Coming from a person who struggles with multiple conditions that aren’t covered under state insured care, I have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses,” she said. “For rates to go up is pretty unaffordable to me, along with rising rent and the cost of living. I have loved ones who are barely covered by insurance, who are living paycheck to paycheck, taking care of children, transportation and family, and additional hikes just would not be sustainable for their overall health.”

Arden Parrish, head of the #Insulin4all Connecticut chapter, said when the price of coverage goes up, people resort to cost cutting measures like rationing insulin and other medications, or drop their coverage altogether. Parrish, who has Type 1 diabetes, has relied on insulin since they were 7 years old.

“As prices continue to increase, more and more people are forced to give up their [Affordable Care Act] insurance,” Parrish said. “Some switch to cheaper plans that cover less of their life saving medications and ultimately leave them vulnerable to unthinkable outcomes. Many are left completely uninsured. For people like myself, this is tantamount to a death sentence.”

Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais and regulators with the department listened to hours of testimony Monday from residents, politicians and insurance executives. In the coming weeks, they will review the proposed rate increases and decide whether to accept, reject or amend them.

Three insurers are selling policies on the exchange: Anthem Health Plans, CTCare Benefits Inc., and ConnectiCare Insurance Company Inc.

Anthem sought an average increase of 9.8% on individual plans it sells through the exchange that cover 33,939 people. The proposed increases range from 6.8% to 13.6%, depending on the plan.

The company also asked for an average hike of 14.9% on small group policies that cover 27,565 people. The suggested increases range from 8.9% to 22.1%.

CTCare Benefits Inc. requested an average hike of 12.7% for individual plans that cover 64,482 people. The proposed increases range from 10.2% to 15.5%

And ConnectiCare Insurance Company sought an average hike of 17.5% on individual policies that cover 11,954 people. The recommended increases range from 10.2% to 22.2%, depending on the plan.

Insurers are also asking for increases on off-exchange policies.

They have attributed the proposed hikes to the rising cost of prescription drugs, increased demand for medical services and the impact of Medicaid unwinding, among other changes.

“For an insurance company to be sustainable, rates must be adequate to provide for the payment of claims and the costs of administering the program,” said Mark Meador, president of ConnectiCare. “Over the past two years, we have experienced significant losses. Last year at the same rate hearing we explained that we lost $65 million in the individual market in 2021. In 2022, we lost $36 million. In 2023, our financials have improved, but we still expect to run at loss in the individual market. For 2024, the premium levels for our plans must be sufficient to meet the health care needs of our members who depend on us.”

On Monday, executives said they are facing rising costs in reimbursing health care providers for services, and the consolidation of health care companies has made negotiating more challenging.

“Consolidation of previously independent provider groups under a single hospital system is driving up the price of health care services,” said Brandon Rousseau, sales director of individual, small group and commercial large group plans for Anthem. “These are the same services provided before and after the consolidation, with the exception that the consolidation under the hospital system can trigger higher contract prices for payers.”

“Some hospital systems are getting larger and larger, buying up other hospitals and physician practices. The hospital systems’ consolidation in our state has made it more difficult for us to negotiate reimbursement rates on behalf of our members and our customers,” Meador added. “Connecticut’s health care providers need to be held accountable for increasing their charges, just as the state’s insurance companies are being held accountable.”

Attorney General William Tong called on the insurance department to organize a broader hearing that would allow state officials to collect evidence and scrupulously question insurers about their proposed increases. Officials would be able to cross-examine witnesses and present their own evidence in a public setting. Other stakeholders, such hospital executives and health care providers, would also be included.

He made a similar request last year, which was turned down by the insurance department.

“If these increases are approved, we know two things for sure,” Tong said. “We know that these huge companies and their executives will make a lot more money. We also know that these increases will punish and hurt Connecticut families.”

Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, a co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said residents can’t shoulder another rate hike.

“We have families who sometimes must decide between lifesaving medication and putting food on the table. I’ve spoken to many of these people,” he said. “While we’ve taken several steps over the years to address the rising costs of health care and prescription drugs, people simply cannot afford these increases.”

The public can still submit written comments on the proposed rate increases through the insurance department’s website. State officials are expected to make a decision on the rates later this month or early next month.

Open enrollment for the 2024 coverage year begins Nov. 1.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.