The HIQS Group Response to Op-ed
I am replying to a June 28th op-ed by State Senators Kevin Kelly and Tony Hwang concerning health insurance rate increases for the next year. The article seems to be a thinly veiled polemic rather than an evenhanded way to address the issues and deal with the subject responsibly. As I have much experience, having helped thousands of people with health insurance through my agency, HIQS Group in Bethel, I would like to offer some perspective.
The senators are correct in their complaint that the rate increases are unpredictable and burdensome. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, rates have risen as much as 300 percent. However, I take issue with the senators’ claim that if we only had public hearings, where average consumers could register their complaints, the insurance department could then force the insurance companies to lower their rates. The senators say that “massive increases must be explained and justified”. They ARE explained and justified in the State Insurance Department’s rate review process. This involves insurance companies submitting a proposed rate increase to the state insurance department with justifications-often hundreds of pages of documentation. Our state insurance department is then required to review the actuarial math behind every rate increase. This is not something the average consumer can even follow (or me for that matter). However, there is an opportunity for the public to protest the increase itself. Policyholders are sent letters telling them how and where to comment. The senators say this is a “rigged game” with no transparency. But the truth is, only after public input does the insurance department approve an increase. The process is transparent. I agree that rake hikes are frustrating, but the premium rate review process is not the problem.
The real blame lies on the underlying laws. The federal and state governments have mandated the coverage which must be included in each health insurance policy. It is these mandates that drive prices. There are two types of policies in CT, employer based and individual. Employer based plans currently require many benefits to be included in order to protect employees. There are good reasons for that. Unfortunately, the same laws apply to insurance purchased by individuals, supposedly “protecting” them by forcing them to purchase coverage they may not need or want. Requiring that policies cover all pre-existing conditions and include an ever increasing laundry list of benefits result in consumers paying a lot more for their insurance.
People often ask me how we could make health insurance more affordable. I would eliminate all insurance exchanges. They are expensive to maintain. They impose an extra layer of bureaucracy. I would leave the employer based plans alone and focus on changing non-employer based plans purchased by individuals. I would allow insurance providers to sell policies tailored to the benefits which are needed by that policyholder. This would result in lower prices. Subsidies would not be needed for these plans if insurance was affordable. Uninsurable people could have help subsidizing their premiums. The money for these subsidies could come from the savings realized by doing away with the exchanges as well as not having to subsidize plans for the healthy and insurable. Protesting the rate increases is not realistic. Changing the laws that drive insurances rates higher makes more sense, however it will not be easy.
R. Joseph Knudsen
HIQS Group, Bethel, Ct.