Connecticut figured prominently in this report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was one of four states where insurance companies requested and received double digit increases in health insurance rates last year.

While officials in President Barack Obama’s administration seemed poised to use the report to jumpstart its stalled health care reform proposals, Connecticut officials used it to promote legislation that will require the Insurance Department to hold public hearings and notify consumers about proposed rate increases.

The Connecticut bill would also require the Insurance Department to take some type of action on every proposed rate increase. Currently it doesn’t need to take any action and the proposed rate increase will automatically go into effect.

“I have always been skeptical of the State Insurance Department’s claim that it lacks the tools and authority necessary to dig deep on rate increase requests,“ Kevin Lembo, the state’s Healthcare Advocate said Thursday. “More often than not, the companies get exactly what they ask for.”

As proof Lembo offered this Dec. 14, 2009 Office of Legislative Research report, which shows that many times the four largest individual health insurance companies in the state received exactly the rate increase it requested.

In Connecticut Anthem requested a rate increase of more than 30 percent last summer. But after public outcry and a rare state Insurance Department public hearing, Anthem was granted rate increases between 13 and 20 percent, not the 22 to 32 percent rate increases it had requested.

“Individuals and businesses are forced to accept these outrageous increases in insurance premiums, because they have no real power to change the outcome; no voice in the process; no real, open market.  That must change,” Lembo said.

This summer after Lembo and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced they would be introducing legislation to open up the rate setting process, Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan said he doesn’t like increasing rates either and would be happy to hold more public hearings on health insurance rate filings, “as long as the legislature gives the Insurance Department the resources it needs.”

Lembo said that shouldn’t be a problem since the Insurance Department’s budget is paid for by the industry and doesn’t come from the states general fund, which is in the red by about $500 million.

Lembo encouraged the public to come out to the public hearing on the bill and voice their support in favor of greater transparency in the rate setting process.

The public hearing on the bill will be held 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25.