Three Insurers Agree to Delay Rate Hikes

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced Friday that Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna and PacifiCare have all agreed to delay their proposed health premium increases for 60 days.  Blue Shield of California will be the only insurer in California to raise rates.

Earlier this month, Commissioner Jones asked Blue Shield to delay imposing rate hikes on its individual policyholders. Some members are seeing their rates go up by as much as 59 percent with new and recent increases.  Several days later, he made the same request of the three other insurers.

While the other insurers have complied, officials at Blue Shield have refused to delay the increases and plan to put the new rates into effect March 1.  They say higher hospital and prescription drug costs are driving the premiums up.  They have agreed to refund policyholders only if an independent actuary finds errors in its rate filings.

Jones' authority, however, is limited to making sure that insurers spend a certain portion of their premium dollars on direct medical care.  This past Tuesday, Jones got the go-ahead to enforce a new federal law that requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent on medical care, up from the previous threshold of 70 percent.

According to the Department of Insurance, Anthem wants to increase premiums an average of 9.8 percent.  Aetna has filed for a 2.8 percent hike, and PacifiCare has proposed raising premiums from 2.5 to 9.1 percent.