I hate health insurance. Well, I don’t want to sound mean, so I’ll say I don’t like health insurance. I don’t like shopping for it. I don’t like paying for it. I don’t like using it. I don’t like arguing about what is and is not covered by it. I don’t like the effect it has on our medical system. And I certainly don’t like the effect it has on personal injury litigation in Texas.
And maybe what I like least is the way the premium costs seem to go up by double-digits every year. A recent article in the Times Argus paper underscored the problems with rising health insurance premiums across the country. Here are excerpts:
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.
Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.
In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013.
The rate requests in California are all the more striking after a 39 percent increase sought by Anthem Blue Cross in 2010 helped give impetus to the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which was passed two years ago.
In other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders. The rate increases can amount to several hundred dollars a month.
Under the health care law, regulators are now required to review any request for a rate increase of 10 percent or more; the requests are posted on a federal website, healthcare.gov, along with regulators’ evaluations.
The double-digit requests in some states are being made despite evidence that overall health care costs appear to have slowed in recent years, increasing in the single digits annually as many people put off treatment because of the weak economy.
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that costs may increase just 7.5 percent next year, well below the rate increases being sought by some insurers. But the companies counter that medical costs for some policy holders are rising much faster than the average, suggesting they are in a sicker population.
The California insurers say they have no choice but to raise premiums if their underlying medical costs have increased. “We need these rates to even come reasonably close to covering the expenses of this population,” said Tom Epstein, a spokesman for Blue Shield of California. The insurer is requesting a range of increases, which average about 12 percent for 2013.
Although rates paid by employers are more closely tracked than rates for individuals and small businesses, policy experts say the law has probably kept at least some rates lower than they otherwise would have been.
Some consumer advocates and policy experts say the insurers may be increasing rates for fear of charging too little, and they may be less afraid of having to refund some of the money than risk losing money.
The practice of medical underwriting — being able to consider the health of a prospective policy holder before deciding whether to offer coverage and what rate to charge — will no longer be permitted after 2014 under the health care law.