Left to right: U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle, Sen. Matt Lesser, CCAG Director Tom Swan Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

As the state Insurance Department prepares to weigh public feedback on proposals from health insurance providers to raise next year’s individual plan rates by an average of more than 20%, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal offered on Friday a significantly lower counter proposal. 

“What’s the appropriate rate increase? Zero. Nothing. Nada,” Blumenthal said during a Friday morning press conference at the Legislative Officer Building in Hartford.

The two-term senator, who is running for re-election against Republican Leora Levy, joined state Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle and Connecticut Citizens Action Group director Tom Swan to rail against the insurance company proposals ahead of a Monday public hearing on the matter. 

State insurance carriers have come under near-constant fire from public officials since last month, when nine companies who sell insurance plans both on and off the state health insurance exchange asked the state to approve more than a dozen rate filings for price increases in both the individual and small group markets. The proposals seek an average price increase of 20.4% on individual plans. 

The Connecticut Insurance Department will host an informational hearing on the proposals at the Legislative Officer Building beginning at 9 a.m. Monday.

During Friday’s press conference, Blumenthal and others focused in large part on the likely extension of boosted federal subsidies for plans sold on the state exchange. Those additional subsidies had been scheduled to expire at the end of the year, but will be extended for three years under legislation expected to receive final passage in Congress later on Friday. 

Lesser said the expiration of the benefits was a driving factor in some of the double-digit rate hikes proposed by insurance companies including ConnectiCare, which has asked for a 24.1% rate increase. 

“They are betting on a death spiral, they are betting on the Affordable Care Act to go away and they are wrong,” Lesser said, “because Senator Blumenthal, Senator [Chris] Murphy last week voted as part of the Inflation Reduction Act to extend support for the Affordable Care Act.”

Last week, Attorney General William Tong made a similar argument and asked the state Insurance Department to delay Monday’s hearing in anticipation of congressional action to extend those benefits. 

However, Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais declined to postpone the hearing and disputed the claim that the expiration of federal subsidies had been a significant driver of the requested rate hikes. 

In addition to uncertainty around boosted benefits, insurers have attributed their proposals to other elements including the rising costs of health care and pharmaceuticals, as well as patients seeking treatments that they had put off during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“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,” Kim Kann, a spokesperson for ConnectiCare, said in a statement last month.

However, the elected officials and advocates on Friday pointed to the record profits and soaring executive compensation enjoyed by five of the companies seeking to raise rates on their members. 

Blumenthal said the rate hike requests collapsed under even passing scrutiny when compared to the billions in profits brought in by insurance carriers. 

“The Insurance Department simply ought to say ‘No. We’re not dummies. We’re not fools. We know what you’re doing and on behalf of consumers we say no,’” Blumenthal said.

During a press conference on Thursday, Gerard O’Sullivan, the Insurance Department’s director of consumer affairs, said the agency would resist the rate hike requests.

“We’re pushing back very hard against the insurance companies and the trend analysis that they submitted to our department,” O’Sullivan said.

Gov. Ned Lamont argued the expected extension of the health care subsidies and other elements of the Inflation Reduction Act should curb the need for rate hikes.

“Everybody goes in with a high thing, we’re going to push back hard and show how some of the fundamentals in terms of pharma and hospital costs have changed as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act and that should also reduce their requests,” Lamont said. 

However, Doolittle, the state healthcare advocate, argued that state insurance regulators needed to expand the factors they considered when evaluating rate requests to include the out-of-pocket costs paid by consumers in addition to their premiums as well as weighing whether the requests were based on excessive or unreasonable prices charged by hospitals or pharmaceutical companies. 

“This year in particular, when the traditional question of insurance company solvency can be answered in less than one minute simply by referring to the record profits that health carriers have been logging the past few years, CT families deserve a deeper inquiry into whether or not the rates requested are excessive,” Doolittle said in an email. 

Insurance regulators are only allowed to consider whether the insurance companies will remain solvent under the proposed hikes and that the premiums are enough to cover the claims.