Health insurers defend 20-plus% rate hike request at testy hearing

Frustrations flared during a public hearing Monday, as health insurers asked state regulators to approve double-digit premium increases next year. It comes as consumers are dealing with historic inflation.
Customers argued that carriers don't need the money.
"$137 billion in just salaries of the CEOs?” said Holly Hackett, who suffers from chronic disabilities. “Come on! Seriously?"
In all, seven companies are asking for an average 20% rate increase in 2023. Even Gov. Ned Lamont was stunned.
"It was certainly a lot more than anybody anticipated,” he said. “Certainly much more than they've asked for the last few years as well."
Only ConnectiCare and Bloomfield-based Cigna were invited to testify, since both are asking for the biggest jumps. ConnectiCare said it lost $65 million last year because premiums aren't keeping up with demand.
"We have not requested any more than we absolutely need in order to remain part of the [Affordable Care Act] exchange,” said ConnectiCare president Karen Moran.
Two years after COVID began, insurers say more people are going to the doctor after long-delayed care, driving up costs. They also said more mental health treatment, rising hospital and drug fees, and state mandates are driving up costs.
"While we may have one of the higher proposed increases, we continue to have among the lowest actual out-of-pocket premium cost when all is said and done,” said Wendy Sherry, Cigna vice president of commercial markets.
The insurance industry is one of Connecticut’s biggest employers and a powerful lobbying force in Hartford. Carriers have successfully shut down attempts to create a “public option” health plan, with the help of Lamont and GOP lawmakers. But even Republicans blasted the rate request, with state Rep. Tom Delnicki (R-South Windsor) likening the yearly requests to “Groundhog Day.”
“There’s a tone-deaf disconnection,” said state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield). “It seems to many, many people that you’re much more interested in Wall Street rather than the residents and the small businesses on Main Street.”
State regulators also appeared skeptical, grilling insurers about how they calculated cost projections.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong asked for a formal rate hearing, but the state insurance commissioner denied the request, saying Monday’s format gave the public more opportunity to weigh-in.
“Outside of this room is real life, and in real life, Connecticut families are suffering,” Tong said.
Tong asked if either insurer analyzes whether customers can afford rate hikes. Both said no.
"We look to the market to answer that question,” Cigna’s Sherry replied.
State actuaries will spend the next month analyzing each request. By late September, the Connecticut Insurance Department will decide what -- if any -- increase carriers will get.
"This is not 'send it to us and we will rubber stamp it,'” said Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais. “This is not a ‘we will accept your assumptions.'"
The department has also scheduled an information hearing for Oct. 3 to hear from insurers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies about rising health care costs.