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Anthem, critics face off over rate-hike request

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Critics of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield protested the health insurer's request for a nearly 20-percent increase in rates Wednesday, telling Connecticut insurance officials the proposal is shameful and greedy.

Anthem, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., is seeking a 19.9-percent raise for 48,000 individual policy holders, citing escalating health care costs.

Sara Darer Littman, a Greenwich policy holder, said Anthem has too often sought rate increases that exceed inflation, forcing her to switch to a policy with a higher deductible to cover therapy for her son who has Asperger's Syndrome.

"I urge you to stop this unconscionable travesty," she told an Insurance Department panel.

The hearing was halted briefly as a group of protesters stood and held signs that said, "Shame" and accused Anthem of excessively compensating its CEO.

Kevin Galvin, head of a small business group, told the panel that cost increases in other services used by small businesses are not comparable to the "astronomical rate increases" sought by Anthem.

"The message is 'request a rate increase when there is a true need and not just for the sake of greed, especially when virtually all segments of our economy are barely hanging on while the requester is seeing amazing profits,'" he said.

The rate proposal applies to health insurance that was not subject to new requirements of the federal health care law enacted in March, Anthem said. If approved, the increase would take effect Jan. 1.

Robert Ruiz-Moss, an Anthem representative, told the Insurance Department panel that the insurer's analysis shows health care costs growing by double digits. Its rate requests are in line with those of competitors, he said.

Costs for hospital care, new technologies and other high-priced diagnostic services and prescription drugs are increasing, "and we owe it to our members to cover those costs and ensure access to a broad network of providers," Ruiz-Moss said.

WellPoint reported that its third-quarter profit was $739 million, up slightly from $730 million in the same three months in 2009. Operating revenue dropped nearly 6 percent, to $14.33 billion, partly because of a decline in enrollment for fully insured plans that bring in more money for insurers than group coverage they administer.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who was rebuffed in his attempt to have the hearing postponed so more documents could be made available, told the panel that he sees no justification for the rate request.

"We believe the evidence so far is completely inadequate," said Blumenthal, who was elected U.S. senator this month.

Barbara Spear, acting insurance commissioner, is to rule on the request by mid- to late-December.

In August, California approved Anthem Blue Cross rate increases of 13.4 percent and Blue Shield 18.5 percent. Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest for-profit insurer, had withdrawn a rate increase request of as much as 39 percent and averaging about 25 percent.

Leading up to the vote on the federal health care bill, President Barack Obama often cited Anthem's rate hike as an example of a broken health care system.

In Maine, an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield rate increase of 10.9 percent for individual health plans took effect July 1. That was down from 18.1 percent the insurer sought.

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