Health Inc.

WellPoint Pushes Ahead On Controversial Rate Hikes

Health insurer WellPoint is being hammered on both coasts for raising premiums on health plans. But the insurance giant shows no signs of backing down.

Executives with the insurance giant's Anthem Blue Cross subsidiary in California were grilled by state legislators Tuesday over increases on individual plans that could run as high as 39 percent there. The controversial increase, which could affect as many as 800,000 Californians, were originally set to take effect in March. But they've been postponed while independent actuaries review them.

The brouhaha over the increases hasn't changed the company's plans. Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento asked Anthem officials if they expected to proceed with the planned hike. And, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, WellPoint Vice President James Oatman replied, "We believe rate increase we have applied for is consistent with all the laws of the state of California. We are advocating that those rates are appropriate rates."

This company has become Exhibit A in Democrats' case for changes in the insurance business. President Obama's proposal for health overhaul released Monday includes a call for a federal role in reviewing insurance rate increases and the power to block those that are unreasonable.

Today in Washington, WellPoint CEO Angela Braly will face tough questions from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Think Toyota.

WellPoint has defended its premiums in the state, saying medical costs are rising and the pool of people sticking with individual policies is getting sicker and more expensive to cover. On top of that, the company says its profit margins in less or lower than its rivals. You can the insurer's main points here.

Meanwhile, the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund weighs in with a report showing that WellPoint big rate hikes aren't limited to California. An analysis written by Scot Paltrow finds that the insurance company has proposed or made double-digits increases in at least 11 states.

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