KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Blue Cross Of Massachusetts Agrees To Reduce Dramatic Rate Increases

In Massachusetts, the state's largest health insurer has agreed to reduce dramatic rate increases for individuals and small businesses.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is "the fourth major insurance company to reach a deal with the state after regulators rejected their initial price increases four months ago," The Boston Globe reports. "With this latest settlement, the state has struck deals with insurers covering 90 percent of the small business market, which affects more than 800,000 people in Massachusetts. The agreement, unveiled yesterday, also marks a key win for Governor Deval Patrick, whose administration fought a high-profile battle to block major health insurers from imposing double-digit rate increases on small businesses this year. But Patrick administration officials acknowledge that they need to do more to keep rates from going up in the future. ... Under the agreement, Blue Cross will settle for base rate increases ranging from 0.4 percent to 12.9 percent - depending on the insurance plan - down significantly from the 1.7 percent to 22.6 percent range initially requested, effective Sept. 1." The company claims the new rates are too low to cover costs. The state has also "struck settlements with Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts Health Plan, and Neighborhood Health Plan. Two other insurers, Fallon Community Health Plan and Health New England, are continuing to appeal, but state regulators hope to reach a deal with them as well" (Wallack and Lazar, 8/6).

The Associated Press: "The agreement is the state's fourth with insurers since April 1, when the Division of Insurance rejected 235 of 274 rate changes filed by the state's health insurers because the agency viewed them as excessive. Some of the insurers appealed the decision. … The agreements now in place cover 90 percent of the state's small businesses and working families insured in the merged market, the state said" (Moran, 8/5).

The Republican: "Under all the settlements, there are no retroactive rate increases and the new rates will be in force for the rest of 2010. Insurance companies will submit new rates for 2011 by October. [State commissioner of insurance Joseph G.] Murphy said insurers have been promised that they stand a good chance of getting their next rate increase approved if they keep them below 9.9 percent" (Kinney, 8/6).

Meanwhile, "[a]s state officials touted their efforts to contain health-care premium hikes yesterday, business groups and insurers blasted Beacon Hill pols for diminishing those savings with new laws that require coverage of expensive treatments," the Boston Herald reports. "Though the Bay State has some 37 mandated health-care services already - including the most comprehensive law for coverage of infertility services in the nation - lawmakers expanded those benefits last week, for an average monthly cost of $720 for a 50-person company that covers its workers." This week, a bill passed to mandate coverage of postpartum depression and Patrick signed a bill to expand coverage of childhood autism services. "Small businesses bear the brunt of mandated coverage costs, advocates say, while larger companies tend to provide plans that are subject to federal, not state, health-care mandates" (Van Sack, 8/6).

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