Anthem Blue Cross 39 Percent Rate Hike Draws Ire Of Federal, Calif. Regulators

Los Angeles Times: "California insurance regulators asked Anthem Blue Cross to delay controversial rate increases of as much as 39% for individual policies, hikes that have triggered widespread criticism from subscribers and brokers -- and now from the federal government. In a rare step, the Obama administration called on California's largest for-profit insurer to justify its rate hikes, saying the increases were alarming at a time when subscribers face skyrocketing healthcare costs."

"In a letter to Anthem's president, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius voiced serious concern over the higher premiums, which go into effect March 1 for many of the insurer's estimated 800,000 individual policyholders" (Helfand, 2/9).

Reuters: "Sebelius called for Anthem to offer the public a detailed explanation of the rate hike as well as other information about how much of consumers' premium dollars go toward medical care rather than other expenditures. ... While it was unclear what, if any, steps the U.S. health department could take, Sebelius said she was 'very disturbed' and was 'closely monitoring' the Anthem situation" (Heavey, 2/8).

The Associated Press: Sebelius "said the company should also make public what percentage of customers' premiums go to medical care versus administrative costs. ... Sebelius said Anthem Blue Cross' parent company, WellPoint Inc., 'has seen its profits soar.' ... WellPoint earned $536 million in the final three months of last year."

"President Barack Obama cited the Anthem rate hikes in an interview with CBS' Katie Couric on Sunday as a reason to move forward with his health overhaul legislation, which is stalled in Congress" (Mohajer, 2/8).

The Washington Post: "The unusual salvo offers a reminder that, even as health-care legislation lies in limbo in Washington, the battle over surging health care costs continues in other venues."

"'We regret the impact this has on our members,' the company said in a statement. 'It highlights why we need sustainable health care reform to manage the steadily rising costs of hospitals, drugs and doctors. As such, it is important to go back to the beginning and get health care reform done right'" (Macgillis, 2/8).

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