Wellmark executives say Iowa’s aging population is to blame for rising insurance premiums; not greed or mismanagement. Representatives from the state’s largest insurance carrier testified at the statehouse Thursday at the request of lawmakers. Legislators want to know why 80,000 Iowans face premium increases averaging 18%.

Wellmark vice President Laura Jackson says it’s largely due to Iowans age and increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. “We can talk all day about health insurance reform, and there’s some great things that need to happen there, but if we do not address the underlying drivers we continue to have this rate of increase,” Jackson says. She says 60% of Iowans are overweight, which leads to higher incidence of diabetes and knee and hip replacements.

Jackson says in 2009, the company actually paid out more than it took in, forcing them to raise rates. She says 94 cents of every dollar they collected in premiums was spent on healthcare services, with less than ten cents allocated for administrative expense.

“So we take very good care of the dollars we do have and take very little for ourselves. In fact if you really compare it to a lot of not for profits, I think you would find that not even those amount of dollars go towards overhead, so as you think about that we really try to take good care of those dollars,” Jackson says. She urged lawmakers to create an environment that would promote healthier living and bring down costs.

But Representative Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, says she remains unconvinced. “I left the table feeling the same way I felt last week that were not doing enough to regulate them and understand what the cost drivers are and what we can do to have an impact on the bottom line of what the rates are going to be for Iowans,” Petersen said. Petersen says she’s heard from many older Iowans whose rates have gone up regardless of health.

Petersen says, “I can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t be outraged. I mean Iowans are not going to be able to continue to afford it. It’s really affecting all aspects of our economy.” Petersen wants legislation that requires the state’s insurance commissioner to provide more detail when premium increases are approved.

Commissioner Susan Voss says one of the reasons rates are going up is because doctors and hospitals are turning to private payers as government reimbursements for Medicaid and Medicare decline.