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Monday, February 22, 2010

Even MORE rate hikes proposed

Kate Blocher

Staff Writer

If the news of impending premium hikes in California wasn't enough to convince you of the urgency of passing health reform, then the news that insurance companies in at least six other states (and counting) have proposed dramatic rate increases as well should shock you into the realization that the time for reform is NOW!

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report yesterday that details recent proposed rate increases in Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington as well as record profits by the nation's top insurance companies and their CEOs. According to the report, the one of the worst offenders requested a rate increase of 56 percent for plans sold on the private market in 2009!

What makes these requests even more offensive is that even though health care costs have increased, the report found, "some of the premium increases requested by insurance companies are 5 to 10 times larger than the growth rate in national health expenditures."

Further, many of these companies are certainly not hurting for profits:

"[P]rofits for the ten largest insurance companies increased 250 percent between 2000 and 2009, ten times faster than inflation"

Unfortunately, what happened in California and these other states aren't isolated incidents. Without comprehensive health reform, insurers across the country will continue their assault on consumers unabated, with "rate increases of 20, 25, [and] 30 percent."

Insurance companies should not be allowed to enforce unjust rate hikes on families who are already struggling to deal with a recession and rising health care costs. While a few states have meaningful health insurance rate review mechanisms, the vast majority don't.

Comprehensive federal reform will establish standards for strong premium rate review in every state with opportunities for consumer input, rules that require insurance companies to spend a reasonable percentage of premium dollars on health care, and the authority to give a refund to consumers who are overcharged. 

The HHS report could not be more on point, stating:

"These massive increases are disturbing examples of the problems that make reforming our health insurance system more important than ever."

Hopefully Congress will listen.