SACRAMENTO: HMOs Ring Up Higher Premiums
Sacramento Medicare beneficiaries are hearing this week just "how much more [they] will pay for health care, doctor's visits and prescription drugs," in light of recent reports that HMOs throughout California and nationwide will raise premiums and cut benefits next year. Many seniors have received "disturbing" telephone calls from their HMOs informing them of the changes, the Sacramento Bee reports. Sacramento's Blue Shield 65 Plus plan will begin charging its 950 area members $80 per month, and will cap prescription drug benefits at $1,600. Last year, the HMO did not charge any premium. The company attributes the higher cost to "increased medical and pharmacy costs" and, "in Sacramento's case, to higher than usual hospital costs and increased payments to doctors." Other major Medicare HMOs in the Sacramento region, including PacifiCare's Secure Horizons and Kaiser Permanente, plan similar price increases and premium introductions, but Blue Shield's premium hike is the steepest. Some health care advocates contend that these recent moves by HMOs are "as much a political statement as an economic one." Jack Christy, director of the California HealthCare Foundation's California Medicare Project, said, "This is hardball. The message HMOs are sending to Congress through beneficiaries is, 'The government is not giving us enough money.'" But HMOs contend that they are only try to stay afloat. Clark Miller, spokesperson for Blue Shield, defended the company, noting that "as a nonprofit we think we should serve this market as well as we can, but we have to break even" (Perkins, 9/30).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.