Anthem Revises California Health Policies to a 14% Hike

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Facing continued scrutiny over rising premiums, Anthem Blue
Cross on Wednesday submitted revised rate increases that are
substantially lower than the controversial rate hikes it proposed six
months ago.

But it wasn’t enough to appease consumer health
advocates, who said the average increase of 14 percent remained too high
for 700,000 Californians who buy insurance on their own.

spokeswoman for WellPoint, Anthem’s parent company, said the new rates,
while still substantial for policyholders, are necessary to keep the
company sustainable.

"We’d acknowledge that the rates are high," said the spokeswoman,
Kristin Binns. "But we are concerned that medical costs are rising and
we don’t see that subsiding."

The insurer came under fire for an
earlier plan to increase rates by as much as 39 percent. The steep hike
stoked debate over the rising cost of health insurance and helped revive
the national effort to overhaul health care.

The company withdrew
its rate filing in April when an actuary hired by the Department of
Insurance to review it found numerous math errors.

This time,
Anthem officials said, the company took "multiple steps" to ensure its
filing was accurate, including bringing in a third party to review the
numbers, a practice it intends to follow in the future.

"We put
extra care, time and commitment into really scrubbing all our data to
ensure that we’ve done this thoroughly and it’s been well-reviewed,"
Binns said.

Consumer advocates were hardly satisfied by the
company’s revised rates. They argue that regulators need the authority
to reject what they deem as exorbitant increases.

"Clearly what
the reduced rate increases show is that public scrutiny matters," said
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California.

Department of Insurance announced in April that an actuary found flaws
in Blue Cross’ original rate filing.

Blue Cross withdrew the
proposal, which came under political and public fire.

Pastoor, an Anthem customer from Davis, welcomed the rate adjustment,
saying that "14 percent is certainly a lot better than 30."

Pastoor and his wife are still paying over $20,000 a year for coverage,
he said, a number that will rise even with the reduced increase.

they do or however they want to raise it, there’s nowhere else for me
to go," said Pastoor, 64.

Greater government oversight is crucial
to protecting consumers, said Jamie Court, president of Consumer
Watchdog, a left-leaning Santa Monica-based advocacy group.

problem is we don’t have a standard that sets out what is excessive and
what is not," Court said. He argues the state should have the ability to
deny rate increases it determines are too high.

"We should let
the regulators determine what’s excessive," Court said.

In the
uproar over Blue Cross’ original filing, Insurance Commissioner Steve
Poizner pledged that the Department of Insurance would closely analyze
the rate filings of the state’s largest individual-policy insurers.

Wednesday, the department released rate filings for Anthem, Aetna and
Blue Shield. Aetna filed for an average 19 percent hike, and Blue Shield
filed for an average 18 percent increase.

Contact the author at: [email protected]


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