A holiday tradition we could do without
By Consumers Union on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Thanksgiving meals, Christmas parties and trick-or-treating aren’t the only traditions Americans share each holiday season. Small businesses, families, and entrepreneurs also huddle around kitchen tables, carefully bracing themselves, as they attempt to absorb health insurance rate increases that have become an annual nightmare.
Pundits and opponents of fair practices have deceptively painted health reform’s new consumer protections as the reason for this year’s premium increases, effectively asking families to ignore the long history of astronomical rate hikes by insurers. But experts and even some insurers estimate that the impact on premiums of important new benefits like ending lifetime limits and extending dependent coverage to age 26 will be minimal – between 1 and 2 percent.
And CU has already documented that these rate increases are nothing new. Last summer, we reported on a history of rate increases from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and double-digit increases going back to 2007 for some nonprofit insurers. You may remember Anthem BCBS of California withdrawing their 39% rate increase admitting the justification was “flawed” after the premium hike came under scrutiny by the California Department of Insurance. Health reform provisions weren’t even in effect when Anthem tried to push that increase on Californians.
All of this demonstrates that claims that health reforms are causing higher premiums need serious scrutiny. However, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report shows major inconsistencies in the authority state agencies have to ensure premium increases are justified. The study found that some states have “no authority at all” while others have “robust authority to review and approve or disapprove rates before they are implemented.” So if you live in Oregon you may have much greater protection from unjustified rate increases than if you live in Texas.
We don’t think that’s fair, so we’ve created a model bill that will help state lawmakers ensure that consumers who purchase insurance on their own are fully protected with a thorough, transparent process for reviewing rate increase filings.
Oversight of health insurer practices is ultimately the responsibility of your state. Health reforms put into place provide additional funding for states to review rate increases and for consumers to file complaints about industry abuses. But it’s still up to your state lawmaker to act to ensure these rate increases are justified and insurers are not grasping onto health reform as an excuse to raise rates.
So the next time you hear that health insurance rate increases are a result of evils perpetrated by an obscure federal government, ask yourself what your rate increase was last year, and the year before, and the year before…..then tell your state legislature to do something about it.