Left to right: Rep. Sean Scanlon, Attorney General William Tong, Lynne Ide, policy director for the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, and Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Attorney General William Tong and a group of advocates and legislators called Wednesday for a public hearing to review insurance rate requests from nine health insurers who are seeking to raise the cost of health plans by an average of more than 20% next year.

The insurance companies, which sell plans both on and off Connecticut’s health exchange, collectively filed 13 requests with the Insurance Department last week for rate changes applying to plans on the individual and small group markets. 

On average, insurers are seeking to raise individual rates 20.4%, a steep increase from the average of 8.6% insurers sought last year. 

During a Hartford press conference, Tong called the requests unacceptable and asked the Insurance Department to host a hearing to allow him to cross-examine insurance carriers. 

“We need to test what [insurers] are saying and understand what’s behind the numbers and put people under oath and ask them questions and really get to the bottom of this,” Tong said. “Yes, I want to litigate this question because the people of this state deserve nothing less than that.”

In a Wednesday statement, Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais said the agency holds annual hearings on rate requests, which is expected to occur this year in early August.  

“That hearing process will happen again this year, and the public is welcome to testify. The Department is fully committed to consumer protection and transparency which is why our hearings are all open to the public and broadcast over the public affairs CT-N Network,” Mais said, adding that his department was still finalizing the date of the hearing.

“Working within the authority granted to this Department, we will closely examine these rate filings, which are all fully posted on the Department website, to make sure the requested rates are consistent with state law. Once the hearing and our thorough actuarial review is completed, the final rates for 2023 will be announced,” Mais said.

However, the hearing the department plans to conduct will be informational, meaning it will not conform to the state Uniform Administrative Procedures Act and not involve putting witnesses under oath.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Tong and others said an informational hearing was not good enough given the severity of the requested rate increases and the financial strain Connecticut residents are experiencing as a result of inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday that the consumer price index increased in June to 9.1% over where it had been a year earlier.

“With these rate increases, we’re going to see people just stop buying insurance,” Lynne Ide, policy director for the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, said. “They will not be able to afford it.”

Lynne Ide, policy director for the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“We want the ability to ask unfiltered questions to the insurers,” Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle said, “on behalf, mind you, of the people who are going to pay these negotiated prices.” 

Insurers have attributed the requests to factors including the rising costs of medical care and pharmaceuticals. In a statement, Kim Kann, a spokesperson for ConnectiCare, said the increases were also impacted by members who have begun utilizing services after delaying care due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the expiration of enhanced tax credits funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We remain extremely mindful of the impact that rate increases have on our members and strive to keep our plans as fairly priced as possible within the reality of today’s health care environment,” Kann said.

Alessandra Simkin, a spokesperson for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said the carrier was committed to offering affordable care. 

“We’re proud to have been offering individual plans from the beginning and look forward to continue to serve people who need these plans,” Simkin said in an email. “Our filing reflects our experience and ability to deliver on behalf of consumers in this market and we look forward to working with the state as we continue the regulatory process.”

In a joint press release, a group of Republican lawmakers including Senate minority leaders Kevin Kelly and Paul Formica and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora also called for a formal hearing on the rate requests and accused state Democrats of inaction on controlling the cost of health care in Connecticut. 

“We are pleased that Democrats too say they want a hearing on this issue, but we need much more than the typical rate increase hearings of the past where a select few gather behind closed doors in a small office before executive branch staff. We need a full public hearing at the State Capitol before the legislature and the public we represent,” the Republicans said.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, disputed the Republicans’ claims, calling it “chutzpah.” Lesser accused Kelly of filibustering health care reform legislation.

“To blame Democrats for proposed increases, I think, is a little much,” Lesser said.

Democrats ignored Republicans’ attempt to get reinsurance from the federal government which would have helped pay the cost of the sickest patients, but would have required a significant $20 million contribution from the state. Republicans argue the state is experiencing a surplus and that would have been a good use of the funding because it would have lowered the cost of health insurance premiums for everyone. 

Gov. Ned Lamont put an end to the debate on a public option, which some Democrats said would have created competition in the health insurance market by allowing the Office of the State Comptroller to offer coverage through the Connecticut Partnership plan. There was concern that the plan would have required a contribution from taxpayers if the premiums collected didn’t cover the claims submitted by participants. 

Former State Comptroller Kevin Lembo had offered to purchase stop gap insurance to cover any differential between premiums and claims.