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Coming soon: Consumer access to data on health insurance rates

By Maryalene LaPonsie on September 29th, 2011

On Sept. 1, a new review program for health insurance rates went into effect. Created by the Affordable Care Act, the program requires a governmental review of any health insurance premium hike in excess of 10 percent. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin posting on its website detailed information provided by health insurance companies to justify these double-digit hikes.

"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act consumers no longer have to navigate the health insurance market blindly and on their own," said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, in a statement. "The next time your insurance company tries to raise your premium by double digits, it will have to give you and rate review experts a good reason--or be labeled as unjustified, or in some states denied."

Health insurance rates rise in 2011

The announcement comes after a number of high-profile rate hikes were implemented earlier this year. Most notably, Anthem Blue Cross increased health insurance premiums for its California members by up to 39 percent in May. In response to the hike, executives from Anthem and WellPoint--the insurer's parent company--were called before Congress.

"Raising our premiums was not something we wanted to do," Angela Braly, president and CEO of WellPoint, was quoted by The Christian Science Monitor as saying to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. "But we believed this was the most prudent choice, given the rising cost of care and the problems caused by many younger and healthier policyholders dropping or reducing their coverage during tough economic times."

The hike was later scaled back for some, but not all, Anthem health insurance plans.

A similar scenario played out late last year in Connecticut where state officials took Anthem to task for a proposed 20 percent hike in medical insurance premiums. The state took the rare step of denying that rate increase, but the company recently filed for a 12.9 percent hike for many of its Connecticut health plans. Since it was filed on August 31st, the Connecticut rate request is not subject to the review program mandated by the ACA.

However, subsequent increases in excess of 10 percent will be reviewed by state or federal officials. In addition, health insurance companies will have to provide a plain-English explanation of the reason for the increase. Consumers can find the explanations and other data on the HHS website, HealthCare.gov.

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