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WellPoint rate hikes spark protest in Indianapolis

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Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, will speak Thursday at a protest rally outside WellPoint Inc.’s Indianapolis headquarters.

The organization behind the protest, a janitors union group called Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, wants WellPoint to delay implementing premium increases on individual policies that will average 21 percent in Indiana. Those hikes are scheduled to take effect March 1.

Some customers have complained of increases as high as 39 percent—which could mean hundreds of dollars more per year, according to calculations by Jobs with Justice.

In Indiana, this could mean a more than $100 increase per month for many Hoosiers.

“It is time for WellPoint to stop putting profit before people who depend upon their service,” said Allison Luthe, one of the organizers of the event. “Access to quality health insurance is a right, not an option. At these rates, people will have to choose between making their monthly household payments and keeping their health coverage.”

The rally begins at 9 a.m. on Monument Circle.

In a hearing Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse, Rob Hillman, president of WellPoint’s Indiana subsidiary, blamed the premium increases on medical innovations that constantly drive up costs. On top of that, he said, increasing numbers of healthy people are dropping health insurance, leaving fewer dollars to cover the medical bills of unhealthy people who must keep coverage. That has forced WellPoint to raise rates even faster, he said.

Hillman downplayed the health insurance industry’s profits and high executive pay, saying they represent little more than 2 percent of the premiums.

A national furor over WellPoint’s rate hikes erupted Feb. 7 when President Obama chastised the company’s plans to raise individual premiums in California by as much as 39 percent. In that state, WellPoint agreed to delay implementation of those increases for two months while state regulators investigate.

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