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HARTFORD, CT — The public is invited Wednesday, Sept. 4, to participate in a public hearing on health insurance rate increases submitted to the Connecticut Insurance Department for review.

Ten health insurance companies, including two offering health insurance plans both on and off Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, proposed an average 7.8% increase in rates for 2020.

Anthem Health Plans, Inc., which is one of the two companies competing for business on Access Health CT, proposed a 15.2% increase in individual health plans mostly because of a 9.3% increase in medical cost trends and the reinstatement of the federally mandated health insurer tax. Anthem served approximately 27,300 members last year.

ConnectiCare Benefits, Inc., which serves about 75,600 consumers, proposed an average 4.9% increase in its rates. It also attributed the increase to a 9.3% increase in medical cost trends.

Nationally, insurance rates have been going down as insurance companies increase their profits in the individual marketplace.

Kaiser Family Foundation reported that by 2017, the individual market generally had begun to stabilize. But that didn’t stop insurers from hiking rates in 2018.

“In 2018 insurers raised benchmark premiums by an average of 34% in response to policy changes such as the Trump Administration’s decision to cease cost-sharing subsidy payments and reduce funding for outreach, and uncertainty over whether the ACA as a whole would remain law. These premium hikes, along with slow claims growth, made 2018 the most profitable year for individual market insurers since the ACA went into effect,” they wrote on June 27th in an issue brief.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced earlier this week that it was lowering its premiums for 2020 by an average of 5.5 percent.

The rate decrease means a $230 million reduction in health care costs for 2020 in North Carolina.

In Connecticut, the public will have an opportunity to address plans offered in both the individual and small group marketplace.

However, the public is likely to be disappointed again that affordability for consumers is not part of the considerations in the rate-setting process in Connecticut.

The Insurance Department’s job is to make sure that the premiums cover the claims and that there is no discrimination against any specific group of clients. According to state statute, the rates have to be adequate and they can’t be excessive or unfairly discriminatory, but beyond that there’s little regulators can do to reign in costs for consumers.

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who co-chairs the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said he’s concerned about the rate increases. He said legislation to allow regulators to look at affordability died again this year in committee.

Last year, Rose Ferraro, of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, told Insurance Department regulators that her organization continues to be frustrated that its testimony will not impact the outcome of the rate review process.

“We recognize that the Connecticut Insurance Department takes this process very seriously. We understand that rate review is an actuarial exercise for regulators, but right now premiums are not an abstract math problem for families,” Ferraro said.

She said she understands the cost of health care continues to rise and that it impacts rates, but if we continue to “ignore the enormous elephant in the room of health care costs we will continue to see those costs rise.”

Lesser said there are many ways to reduce healthcare costs.

“The Trump administration has been looking to repeal and destabilize the ACA, and they’ve taken steps as well to drive up costs to try and break the thing,” Lesser said.

He said there’s more that can be done to lower costs for all consumers.

He said the legislature should have passed legislation that would have allowed the state to apply for a reinsurance waiver to lower the cost of higher claims. The legislation passed the House, but died on the Senate calendar.

He vowed to bring it back again next year.