Policyholders of Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield are weighing in on a proposed nearly 11% rate increase in personal health insurance plans. Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss listened to about a dozen speakers today who criticized the company for lavish spending on a new downtown Des Moines office complex and on excessive pay for executives.
The consumer advocate for the insurance division, Angel Robinson, says she’s received more than 400 other comments. She says many comments are from retired people living on fixed incomes. “Nearly a third of this group actually expressed concerns that if the proposed rate increase did go through they would be forced to lose their health insurance and be uninsured,” Robinson said.
Madrid city councilmember, Don Lincoln, spoke at the hearing and said his payments for health insurance are approaching the size of his mortgage. “I’m going to come to a decision one day where I either have to decide I’m going to make my house payment or I’m going to make a health-care insurance payment,” Lincoln said. Lincoln says he’s a healthy fifty-five year-old and would drop his insurance plan, if his wife would let him.
Wellmark lawyer, Jeff Fisher, says company officials agree with many of the underlying concerns of consumers, but the rate is being driven up by higher healthcare costs. “It’s our position the rate increase we’ve requested is justified, but it’s certainly much higher than wither WellMark or our customers would like to see,” Fisher says. Fisher says customer use of health services is driving the increase.
“Our members, as a group, are using more services year-to-year and this leads to increase in payments that are required to go out to hospitals and doctors and pharmacies,” Fisher says. Wellmark’s request comes on top of an 18% rate increase for individuals in 2010.
This is the first public hearing since a new Iowa law was enacted requiring public comments as part of any insurance rate hearing. Commissioner Voss says she’ll make a decision by the end of the month.