A state senator and a group of advocates on Monday called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell to fire Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan for allowing Anthem to increase its rates 47 percent for nearly 6,000 individuals on its Tonik plan.
“It’s unbelievable to me that the Insurance Commissioner doesn’t support having a rate hearing,” state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said at a Capitol press conference. “Who is the commissioner defending?”
She said the commissioner should be looking out for the consumers. Advocates from a group called Citizens for Economic Opportunity (C.E.O) said he should stop acting like a “shill” for the insurance industry.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Commissioner Sullivan is not doing the right thing by the people of this state,” Prague said.
She said any increase above 10 percent should merit a public hearing.
“It’s up to 47 percent,” Prague said. “Give me a break!”
In 2009, when Anthem asked for a 32 percent increase for some of its individual plans, the Insurance Department bowed to public pressure and held a public hearing regarding the rate increase. It was subsequently lowered to between 13 and 20 percent.
Rell’s office declined to comment on the matter and referred all inquiries to the Insurance Department.
In a written statement, Sullivan said advocates and lawmakers should not be placing the blame for the rate hike on him or his department.
“Removing me as Insurance Commissioner does nothing to address the inconvenient truth that the federal healthcare reform law has caused premiums to increase due to the federal government’s failure to address the rising costs of medical care while simultaneously increasing the value of benefits carriers are required to provide,” Sullivan wrote. “If CEO needs to blame someone and they want to blame the Connecticut Insurance Department — or me — I’m fine with that. But it doesn’t change the inconvenient truth that I didn’t write this bill, state regulators didn’t write this bill, but Congress wrote this bill.”
A spokeswoman for the Insurance Department said Anthem was forced to increase its rates in its Tonik plan — which appears to be marketed to young people— because the benefits the new federal health care bill requires are so much greater than the benefits it previously offered.
For example, prescription coverage under the Tonik plan had been $500. But new federal regulations require Anthem to increase them to $750,000. The Insurance Department says that the prescription coverage alone increases the plan by 23 percent.
Beverly Brakeman, public policy director for the United Auto Workers and member of the Insurance Department’s Consumer Council, said in September 2009 after the rate hearings that the department seemed willing to consider legislation that would require hearings. But the department ended up opposing the legislation, saying the language was too subjective.
But to add insult to injury, Brakeman said the federal government even gave the Insurance Department a $1 million grant to investigate rate requests.
“My question is what are they doing with the $1 million dollars,” Brakeman said. “Why wasn’t the Consumer Council even consulted about these rate hikes?”
Brakeman said the recent rate increase upset her so much that she will be tendering her resignation as a member of the Consumer Council on Wednesday at its next regularly scheduled meeting. Minutes after the press conference Monday, Brakeman learned that meeting had been canceled.
Advocates including Brakeman find it hard to believe the 47 percent increase is related solely to the federal health care legislation.
Phil Wheeler, executive director of CEO, said when people read about a 47 percent rate increase in the newspaper they think their insurance is going up by that amount because of health care reform.
“It has nothing to do with it,” Wheeler said. “But this election cycle they basically use it.”
Asked if a hearing might turn into political grandstanding, Brakeman recalled that during the 2009 hearing that people showed up to speak about the impact a 32-percent rate increase.
In similar fashion on Monday, Sarah Darer Littman — a single mother and author — spoke about the increases she saw as a member of an Anthem’s group plan. Click here to read more about Littman’s Anthem experience.
The Insurance Department said it will be holding a hearing on Anthem’s 2011 insurance rates, which will be effective Jan. 1. Those rates have not yet been filed with the Insurance Department.