Congress Joins Call for Anthem Blue Cross To Reconsider Rate Hikes
Yesterday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations announced plans to investigate Anthem Blue Cross of California's scheduled premium increases, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Anthem recently informed many of its approximately 800,000 individual policyholders that premiums would increase by as much as 39% starting on March 1. The insurer also informed members that it might start adjusting premiums more often than once a year.
The insurer said it opted to raise rates because of the economic downturn and rising health care costs (Helfand, Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
On Monday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter asking Anthem to explain the scheduled rate hike.
California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (R) also sent a letter asking Anthem's parent company WellPoint to delay the controversial rate hike until May 1, pending an investigation from an independent actuary to be appointed by the state (California Healthline, 2/9).
More Lawmakers React
This week, more state and federal lawmakers have weighed in on Anthemâs scheduled rate increases.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and subcommittee chair Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) requested that WellPoint CEO Angela Braly testify about the increases before the subcommittee (Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called for state officials to take action against rapidly increasing premiums. She also asked California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) to investigate Anthem.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said California lawmakers should provide the state insurance commissioner with full authority to oversee health insurers. She also pointed to Anthem's increases as an example of why Congress should strip insurers' antitrust exemption (Felde, "KPCC News," KPCC, 2/9).
President Obama also cited the increases as a reason to continue health reform efforts in Congress.
In California, Assembly Health Committee Chair Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) called for Anthem to withdraw the rate hikes. Jones also announced plans to hold a hearing to examine Anthem and other state health insurers on Feb. 23 (Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
"Anthem Blue Cross demonstrated stunning audacity" by announcing the rate increases, and the insurer "must be held accountable by state and federal officials for the outrageous fee hikes," a Contra Costa Times editorial states.
The editorial continues, "Better government oversight is essential. The insurance companies must not be allowed to take the money and run -- not now and not in the future" (Contra Costa Times, 2/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.