HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called on Anthem Blue Cross of California to release financial data to justify its 39% increase in premium costs for California policyholders—a number that President Barack Obama cited over the weekend to bolster his case for health reform.
Sebelius asks Anthem to justify 39% rate hike
In a letter dated Feb. 8 and sent to Anthem Blue Cross President Leslie Margolin, Sebelius said she was “disturbed” to learn about the increase, which she said is 15 times faster than inflation and could make insurance unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians.
“Your company's strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand,” the secretary stated, adding that WellPoint, Anthem's parent company, posted $2.7 billion in profits during the fourth quarter of 2009.
Sebelius also called on the company to make public its medical-loss ratio data, or the amount of premiums that is used for medical care vs. the percentage used for administrative costs.
California law requires that insurers spend at least 70 cents of every premium dollar on medical care.
Last week, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner instructed his department to hire an outside actuary to examine Anthem's rates, adding that if the ratio is found to be excessive, “I will use the full power of my office to bring these rates down.”
An Anthem spokeswoman said that the company had been alerted to the HHS letter through media accounts, but has yet to review it.
In a statement on its rate increase, Anthem said that the rising cost of care has forced the company to raise its premiums.
“It is important to note that premiums are expensive because the underlying healthcare costs are expensive,” the letter states.
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