WNPR

Connecticut Health Insurers Defend Rate Requests

Jun 15, 2017

Health insurers who sell plans on the state’s exchange got a chance Wednesday to defend their request for hefty rate rises next year. 

Anthem and ConnectiCare cited rising costs and the uncertainty over the federal governments attitude to health care reform. But some of their customers told a different story.

The Connecticut Insurance Department held public hearings to discuss rate increases requested by the two.

Anthem is seeking an average rise of almost 34 percent in its individual plans sold on the exchange. ConnectiCare wants more than 15 percent.

Anthem’s Jim Augur confirmed that one of the key uncertainties for all insurers is whether the federal government will continue to fund a key subsidy called cost-sharing reduction, which helps low-income customers afford deductibles and co-pays.

Beyond that uncertainty, though, the marketplace is already changing.

"In addition to the usual increases in provider costs and utilization that we see across all insurance markets, we are forecasting that the individual market will continue to shrink," Augur said. "And that those individuals with the greater health care needs will be the most likely ones to purchase and retain their coverage."

That means more risk and more cost.

But some customers who got the chance to testify were unsympathetic to the insurer’s plea.

Brenda Shipley is self-employed and an Anthem customer through the exchange. She called the rate request extortion.

"It is especially vital that Connecticut through its insurance department push back on premium increases this year," Shipley told the panel. "Anthem is taking advantage of the upheaval in Congress to prey on its marketplace enrollees here in Connecticut. Access Health enrollees are already terrified of the prospect of paying five times higher premiums, losing income based subsidies, and being denied access to insurance either outright, or indirectly, through exorbitant premium prices for preexisting conditions."

Others who gave public testimony gave the insurers' case more leeway. 

Stephen Hunt is an independent insurance agent.

"It’s the cost of the actual care, not the insurance," he said. "The insurance is paralleling what it insures. If you’re not going to reduce the actual cost of the prescription or the test… the bottom line, we’ll have a marketplace with no market if you don’t allow the carriers to turn a profit."

The hearing officer appointed by the insurance department is expected to issue a recommendation by late summer or early fall. The public is still allowed to comment in writing until July 1.