PROVIDENCE — Attorney General Peter Neronha has filed objections to rate increases sought by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Neighborhood Health Plan and other insurers that offer polices to state residents.
The proposed new rates, Neronha's office said in announcing the objections, "raised concerns about affordability" for people who buy policies on the individual market.
"Like last year, this Office is again objecting to proposed health insurance rate increases that we believe are not justified and will ultimately drive up the cost of healthcare for Rhode Islanders," Neronha said.
"Year after year, Rhode Islanders face rising health insurance costs. Given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, and in light of our analysis of the current financial strength of the involved health insurers, higher rates are not warranted, nor affordable for over 42,000 Rhode Islanders who purchase insurance on the individual market, and nearly 140,000 subscribers of small and large employer group plans."
Blue Cross Blue Shield's request is for a 3.1% increase in the individual market, with Neighborhood Health Plan seeking an 8.5% increase, according to the attorney general. The two insurers, along with Cigna, United Healthcare and Tufts Health Plan, have filed for increases in the small and large group markets ranging from 2.9% to 17.5%.
The rate requests are now before the state regulatory Office of Health Insurance Commissioner, which is expected to issue rulings later this month.
In response to a request from The Journal, Neighborhood Health Plan said it "offers the two lowest cost health plans on the state's health insurance marketplace. Even with the proposed 2022 rate increase, Neighborhood will still be the most cost effective option and will maintain current cost-sharing fees such as deductibles, co-pays and maximum out of pocket expenses for our members. Additionally, the majority of members' premiums will be significantly offset by increases in advanced premium tax credits."
In an email to The Journal, Blue Cross wrote that its requested rates "are based on several factors, including the cost and number of healthcare services and our members' use of prescription drugs" and said that it "recognizes the ongoing economic challenges facing its members due to COVID-19 and took steps to limit proposed rate increases."
The insurer stated its "proposed individual and small group rates are the lowest of the commercial carriers. The large group rate is among the lowest. BCBSRI also continues to waive member cost share, or out-of-pocket costs, for care related to COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, BCBSRI has provided more than $30 million in premium relief to members and customers. BCBSRI will continue to support our members and our customers throughout the pandemic."
Neronha's office said "the request for rate increases on the individual market are being made during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and come after receiving substantial rate increases just last year. The office further highlighted concerns of affordability among minority communities already suffering from economic and health inequities."
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