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

Rates on individual health plans sold through Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act Exchange and outside of it will go up by an average of 9.4% next year, the state insurance department announced Friday.

Small group plans will rise by an average of 7.4%.

Insurers had asked for higher increases — an average of 12.4% on individual policies and 14.8% on small group. The plans cover about 188,000 people.

“Our focus is squarely on the consumers. Our dedicated team of actuaries and other professionals has appropriately reduced the requested health insurance rates increases,” Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais said. “However, the ongoing challenge is in addressing the underlying issues that cause these premiums to rise. Our goal is crystal clear: access by Connecticut consumers to a robust and competitive health insurance market while effectively managing insurance costs.

“The rates introduced today demonstrate the safety net in place to protect against unsupported increases. We remain committed to ensuring that health insurance is priced appropriately and accessible for consumers in Connecticut.”

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

CT Care Benefits had asked for an average increase of 12.7% on individual plans that cover 64,482 people; it was granted a hike of 10.3%. Increases range from 7.9% to 13%, depending on the plan.

ConnectiCare Insurance Company sought an average increase of 17.5% on individual policies that cover 11,954 people. The insurance department approved a 15.3% hike. Increases range from 8.2% to 20%, depending on the plan.

And Anthem requested an average increase of 9.8% on individual policies that cover 33,939 people. The department signed off on 5.6%. Rate hikes range from 1.1% to 11.3%.

The company also asked for a 14.9% average increase on small group policies; 5.1% was approved.

Attorney General William Tong called the rate increases “far too high.”

“Insurers sought bloated rates based on vague, unsupported assumptions contradicting nationally supported data. The Connecticut Insurance Department was right to cut these demands, and, for the first time, to introduce affordability as a line of questioning in their review process this year,” Tong said Friday. “However, these rate hikes remain far too high and deeply unaffordable. Insurers right now have little to no incentive to hold down health care costs or premiums, and Connecticut families and small businesses are getting crushed. We need to change this.”

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, and Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said the hikes make health insurance less accessible.

“The Lamont administration’s approval of these significant rate hikes comes on the heels of last year’s outrageous double-digit rate hikes. It’s tone deaf to thousands of Connecticut ratepayers whose family budgets have been crushed by inflation,” they said in a joint statement. “Health care continues to be more and more unaffordable in Connecticut.”

At a public hearing last month, frustrated residents, advocates and lawmakers urged the insurance department to turn down the double-digit rate hikes recommended by insurers.

“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,” Tenaya Taylor of Hartford 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.”

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.”

Leaders of insurance companies 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,” Mark Meador, president of ConnectiCare, said at the August hearing. “Over the past two years, we have experienced significant losses. … For 2024, the premium levels for our plans must be sufficient to meet the health care needs of our members who depend on us.”

Following another year of substantial recommended rate hikes, legislative leaders say they will introduce a bill this coming session to overhaul Connecticut’s rate review process and require state officials to consider affordability when weighing future increases.

Insurers last year requested an average increase of 20.4% on individual plans and 14.8% on small group policies. The insurance department ultimately approved 12.9% for individual plans and 7.9% for small group.

Part of the overhaul would involve holding a broader hearing that allows state officials to collect evidence and more extensively question the carriers.

“It concerns me how insurance companies are arriving at their proposed rate increases,” Cabrera said. “I’m not getting a lot of details from them. We need to be able to do a deeper dive.”

Tong has also called for changes to the rate review process.

“Connecticut’s review process is far too condensed, and far too opaque to produce any kind of meaningful challenge to the insurance industry’s unjustified and unsupported assumptions,” he said Friday. “It is going to take legislative reform to force insurers to use their negotiating leverage to drive down these ballooning health care costs. And we need a robust, transparent review process that allows us to challenge and scrutinize these applications and actuarial assumptions.”

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.