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Kaiser premiums jump 9.7 percent [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]

By Kristen Consillio, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 08--Health insurance premiums for about 14,400 individuals covered by Kaiser Permanente Hawaii jumped 9.7 percent on Jan. 1.

The state Insurance Division said Monday it had approved Kaiser's rate increase for individuals but is still reviewing a separate 5.3 percent proposed increase for 155,000 members covered under 5,200 business groups.

Kaiser, the state's largest health maintenance organization with more than 226,000 members, said it has already implemented the group increase while awaiting approval from the division, which regulates health plan rates. Kaiser said it will readjust rates if the increase is not approved.

Abe Rodriguez, 40, a hairdresser and owner of Nueve Salon & Spa in Kakaako, said his individual Kaiser health plan rate rose by $80 on Jan. 1.

"I'm upset because it went up over $200 in the past four years," he said. "That's not good because between that and other insurance, they all went up dramatically. That just means I have to cut back money somewhere else. I understand that the prices go up for doctors and everything, but I don't think it can increase that much. I think it's unfair. At this rate, by the time I'm 50, it'll just be crazy."

Kaiser member Eli Lopez said rate increases are a sign of the times.

"That's just the direction that the world's going in," said Lopez, 36. "Health insurance, like gas, food and everything else, is just going to go up. There's not much that we can do except to try our best to keep up."

Laura Lott, spokeswoman for Kaiser, said the premium raise is necessary for Kaiser to reinvest in its hospital and 18 clinics on three islands.

"The Insurance Division carefully and thoroughly reviewed the rate adjustment and determined it was reasonable," she said. "As a nonprofit health plan, we use premium dollars to maintain health care infrastructure and provide quality care to our members."

Meanwhile, Hawaii Medical Service Association boosted rates by an average 8.8 percent for 13,000 individuals renewing health insurance policies Jan. 1. HMSA's medical premiums for roughly 78,000 people covered by 90 large businesses with 100 or more employees rose at the start of the year by an average 1.2 percent -- the lowest rate increase in more than five years. Rates for the bulk of HMSA's more than 700,000 members covered by small-business policies are adjusted in July.

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Individuals and small businesses may see relief next year from higher-priced medical insurance policies when Hawaii's first health insurance exchange takes effect Jan. 1.

The online health insurance exchange, known as the Hawaii Health Connector, is designed to provide residents access to affordable coverage as a one-stop shop where individuals can buy insurance at subsidized rates through a variety of competing health plans.

The state-based exchange, mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, received conditional approval last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a key milestone in establishment of the online marketplace that will open for enrollment on Oct. 1.

"I would think that's a good thing for the little guy because competition should bring down prices," Lopez said. "Every little bit helps."

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(c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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