Health Insurance Customers In California, Mass. Await Decisions About Premium Increases

The Los Angeles Times: "Thousands of worried Californians who buy individual insurance policies from Anthem Blue Cross will soon learn whether they face rate increases of up to 39% that were put on hold for two months amid a public outcry that helped revive national healthcare legislation. California's largest for-profit health insurer agreed to postpone the increases for many of its 800,000 individual policyholders until May 1 while an outside actuary, appointed by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, evaluated its spending practices. The actuary report from Axene Health Partners is expected within two weeks" (Helfand, 4/12).

The New York Times, on the immediate effects of closing of St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan's emergency room: "The effects of the emergency room's closing, the first step in closing down the entire hospital, may be felt more deeply than many suspect. St. Vincent's has a fleet of five ambulances that cover the area from Battery Park City up to the garment district on the West Side, said Patrick Bahnken, president of Local 2507 of District Council 27, which represents emergency medical technicians and paramedics in the Fire Department. Within that area, even people who might not ordinarily go to St. Vincent's to see a doctor could, if they called 911, be picked up by a St. Vincent's ambulance. Depending on location, traffic, how busy other hospitals are and the patient's own choice, St. Vincent's ambulances will now go to other nearby hospitals. ... Over the weekend, Beth Israel Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital Center — both east of St. Vincent's — reported an increased number of emergency patients from the Village area" (Hartocollis, 4/11).

The Associated Press/Boston Herald, on the wait for a decision in the case of state health insurers who want to raise premiums: "Suffolk Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel promised a ruling by close of business Monday as insurers seek an order allowing them to go ahead with planned 2010 rate increases for plans covering small businesses. The state Division of Insurance has rejected the bulk of the proposed increases, saying the companies have not justified them and exceed the medical inflation rate" (4/11).

Cape Cod Times: "Major health insurers, vilified during national health care debates and now in the Patrick administration's crosshairs for seeking premium hikes for small businesses, have long enjoyed nonprofit status in Massachusetts and all the tax breaks that status entails. But top Patrick administration officials have wondered in recent days whether it's time to change course. 'Certainly I think it may be something worth looking at in this environment,' Lt. Gov. Tim Murray told the News Service. 'To regular people, it's just hard to understand and grasp how these are nonprofits – hitting businesses, hitting cities and towns, hitting individuals with double-digit increases that are well beyond the medical rate of inflation year in and year out, and saying that they're losing money and that their CEO salaries have gone up.' ... Insurers have fiercely protested the Patrick administration's characterizations" (Cheney, 4/11).

Idaho State Journal: "In 2005, the Idaho Legislature enacted the Natural Death and Medical Consent Act ... [a] statute [that] allows patients with an incurable or irreversible condition to forego life-sustaining treatment. ... The Act provides for citizens to fill out an 'advanced directive' or legally-binding document, such as a living will, regarding matters such as refraining from artificial life-sustaining procedures and designating someone to communicate their wishes in the event the patient is incapacitated." But an Idaho law that will take effect July 1 may cause some confusion. "Known as the 'Freedom of Conscience for Health Care Professionals' law, the new legislation provides that health care professionals with 'sincerely held religious, moral or ethical principles' need not provide any health care that violates his or her conscience. The law covers those such as pharmacists who, by dint of their conscience, opt to not provide emergency contraception drugs; or health care workers who might be called upon to provide abortion treatments or drugs, or any services that utilize embryonic stem cells" (Bulger, 4/11).

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