March 21, 2011|By Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times
Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise rates for more than 500,000 individual policyholders in California 9.1% on July 1, down from 16.4%, state officials say. In addition, 80,000 members would see rate cuts.
California health insurer Anthem Blue Cross, scaling back rate increases for the second time in less than a year, has agreed to cut nearly in half average increases for more than 500,000 individual policyholders.
State officials said California’s largest for-profit health insurer would reduce average July 1 increases to 9.1% from 16.4%. Anthem said it also would put on hold until January plans to hike policyholders’ deductibles and co-pays for medical services at the same time.
Anthem in January had postponed its insurance rate increase for 60 days while California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones examined its filings. Its new rates announced Monday would save customers an estimated $40 million in premiums this year. Last year, Anthem cut its rate increases nearly in half after a planned 39% hike set off a national uproar over the cost of health insurance.
Jones said he was pleased with Anthem’s decision, but he said that fast-rising rates remain a huge problem for Californians struggling to afford health insurance. And he renewed his call for a state law to give his office the authority to reject excessive rate hikes. “Health insurers still hold all the cards when it comes to rate increases,” he said. “Consumers are at their mercy.”
Anthem said its decision Monday would reduce rate increases for more than 500,000 members, while 80,000 members who have basic hospital plans would see rate decreases. The company said the delay in implementing its plans and lower-than-expected revenues from its individual policies would come on top of about $110 million in losses last year in California’s individual insurance market.
“We are the largest health plan in the state of California, and our mission is to ensure quality healthcare for residents of the state at the most affordable price,” Anthem President Pam Kehaly said. “We are pleased with the resolution of this matter, but feel all stakeholders in the healthcare market in the state must do more to control the unrelenting rise of underlying healthcare costs. We plan to be an active participant in helping forge that dialogue and bringing together the major healthcare players to find the best solutions for California consumers.”