Andrew Mais
Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais, at center, during an Aug. 21, 2023 hearing on proposed rate increases Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut insurance carriers defended requesting steep rate increases for individual and small group health plans for the second year in a row during a Monday hearing in Hartford, where state officials and members of the public urged regulators to reject the price hikes. 

The multi-hour hearing in the Legislative Office Building was hosted by the Connecticut Insurance Department and focused on 10 rate filings from nine health insurers for 2024 health plans sold both on and off Access Health CT, the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

At an average increase of 12.4% for individual plans and 14.8% for the small group market, the requests represent the second consecutive year in which carriers have sought double digit rate hikes. 

During Monday’s hearing, representatives of Anthem, Cigna, and ConnectiCare told regulators that this year’s rate increase requests were largely driven by the rising cost of both health care services and prescription drugs in Connecticut. 

“Turning to our specific rate applications, they reflect what we consider to be the most significant challenge facing the marketplace: the increase in the cost of health care,” said Brandon Rousseau, sales director for Anthem, which is seeking to increase individual plans by 9.8%.

Mark Meador, president of ConnectiCare, said the ongoing consolidation of health care providers under a small number of hospital systems made negotiating lower costs difficult for carriers. ConnectiCare Insurance Company has requested an increase of 17.5% for plans covering nearly 12,000 people. 

Mark Meador
Mark Meador, president of ConnectiCare, on left Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

“Unfortunately, insurance companies alone can not control the underlying cost of care in Connecticut,” Meador said. “Addressing affordability requires participation and partnership from all parties, carriers, drug companies, consumers and the state.”

The state Office of Health Strategy offered a snapshot of the rising cost of health care through a cost growth benchmarking report, summarized Monday by Executive Director Dr. Diedre Gifford. The report found that at 6%, the health care cost growth far outpaced the 3.1% benchmark goal.

Gifford said that spending on commercial health care increased in Connecticut by 18.8% in 2021, when the median household income grew by just 1.9%. 

“The growth in commercial health care spending is far outpacing the growth in what’s in household’s pockets to spend,” Gifford said. 

Attorney General William Tong urged the department to reject the carriers’ requests, which he called “excessive and unjustified.” Tong said two of the three insurance companies at Monday’s hearing were among the biggest and most profitable in the country. 

Attorney General William Tong speaks during an Aug. 21, 2023 press conference. Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, on right and Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, on right Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

“And now they want rate increases that will take millions more from Connecticut families,” Tong said. “If these increases are approved, we know two things for sure: we know that these huge companies and their executives — and that’s critical … will make a lot more money. We also know that these increases will punish and hurt Connecticut families.”

During a midday press conference, legislators on both sides of the aisle told reporters that the insurance carriers had failed to justify the double digit requests during the hearing. 

Sen. Jorge Cabrera, a Hamden Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Insurance Committee, said the companies had provided “non-answers” for nearly four hours.

“I felt like I was being punked,” Cabrera said. “I’m fairly certain I passed logic and reasoning in college and I’m no health expert but, my God, I was just dumbfounded by the incredible lack of forthcomingness and transparency.”

In a press release last week, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group called on the Insurance Department to factor insurance industry profits and practices like executive compensation and stock buybacks into the coming decision on the rate requests. 

“Their greed is appalling,” Tom Swan, the group’s executive director, said. “We spend more than any other country on healthcare and we have the worst results — because we treat healthcare as a commodity. There are too many people extracting too much money.”

The Insurance Department weighs rate increase requests to ensure they are not excessive, inadequate, or discriminatory. The department will make a decision sometime in September. Last year, the agency approved rate increases of an average of 12.9% — a double digit hike, which fell well below the average 20.4% increases requested by insurance carriers. 

Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais said Monday that he understood the carriers’ rationale that the increases were driven by drug prices and cost trends but worried about the impact on Connecticut patients. 

“I come back to the fact that we have before us double digit increases today and that is higher than inflation and higher than the cost growth benchmark established by the Office of Health Strategy,” Mais said.