Connecticut health insurers face scrutiny for steep increase proposals
New Canaan Advertiser, The (CT)
Rate hikes being sought by health insurers serving state residents are "among the steepest in the country" the state's Attorney General William Tong said Monday at a state Department of Insurance public hearing that aimed to address proposed increases.
"Connecticut's families are suffering and are getting squeezed every which way," said Tong, who also called the process used to determine how much increases should be "wholly insufficient."
"In this hearing, our duty should should be to protect Connecticut small businesses and families," he said.
Insurance companies that sell policies on and off the state's Affordable Care Act exchange submitted proposed insurance rate increases last month that averaged a hike of 20.4 percent for next year's plans. The proposal included a 14.8 percent increase on small group plans.
Monday was an opportunity for residents and stakeholders to have a say at a public hearing at the Legislative Office Building. A decision is expected in September from the insurance department.
Tong said the hearing format being used does not allow "for fulsome questioning" and cross examination by his office and other state officials.
"This process is insufficient to get to the bottom of these rate increases," he told Andrew Mais, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Insurance.
Mais said the hearing format being used was chosen because it allows for public comment. He said of the six insurers seeking rate hikes, only Cigna and ConnectiCare were asked to participate in the hearing because their increases were the highest.
Tong asked executives of Cigna and ConnectiCare whether either company does "an assessment of whether your customers can afford to pay these increases."
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Wendy Sherry, vice president of Cigna's commercial markets, said company officials "look to the market to answer those questions."
Neil Kelsey, ConnectiCare's vice president and chief actuary, said the insurer lost $65 million in the individual insurance market last year because of rising costs associated with providing healthcare.
Moran said the rate increases being sought are "a reflection of underlying costs that must be addressed."
"We have not requested any more than we absolutely need," she said.
Elected officials urged Insurance Department officials to reject the proposed rate increases.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., described the rate hike requests anti-consumer and unconscionable.
"These rate increases are not just about numbers - they deeply affect tens of thousands of families across the state," Blumenthal said in written testimony.
"As consumers struggle with rising prices, any premium increase is unacceptable. Zero is the only right answer."
State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, called the proposed rate increases "both staggering and infuriating."
"Insurance premiums are often the size of monthly mortgage payments," said Kelly, who is the Senate Republican Leader.
State Senator Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, described the rate increase request by the insurance companies as "tone deaf."
"It seems like there's a disconnect," Hwang said. "It seems to many people that you are much more interest in Wall Street."
Jim Carson, a spokesman for the Insurance Department, said a final decision on the proposed rate increases is expected in early September.