Blue Cross Of NC Files For 10 Percent Rate Hike For Individual Plans

By Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 03--Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. said today it has filed a rate hike of almost 10 percent with the N.C. Insurance Department, affecting individual customers and those who use a health savings account.

The increase of 9.94 percent -- if approved -- would end four years of rate declines for HSAs and two years of rate declines for individuals.

Officials at the insurance department could not be reached for immediate comment. It approved no rate increase in 2012 for the HSA and 5 percent for individuals.

Customers will receive a notification of rate increases, if any, in October.

Blue Cross controls about 90 percent of the state's individual health insurance market share.

The rate requests are likely to have ripple effects within employer-based coverage since the insurer and United Healthcare together control about 81 percent of the state's commercial health-insurance policies.

The insurer's products covered by the requests are Blue Advantage, Blue Options and Blue Saver.

Blue Advantage PPO is the insurer's traditional co-pay-based health plan for individuals. Blue Options HSA and Blue Saver are high-deductible plans that offer customers lower monthly premiums. Combined, they serve more than 365,000 N.C. customers younger than 65.

"The premium rate increase for individual products reflects the past year's increase of the underlying cost of health-care services and growth in certain procedures," said Patrick Getzen, the insurer's chief actuary.

If the rate increases are approved, 61 percent of the insurer's individual product customers, or about 220,000, would see premium increases of 10 percent or less. More than 4,000 customers would see a decrease in their premiums.

"We are seeing increased use of services in both inpatient and outpatient care and the cost of services continue to rise significantly more than the rate of inflation," Getzen said.

The insurer cited as examples increased use of medical procedures such as heart disease and knee and hip replacement procedures.

The state insurance department approved Blue Cross rate increases for individuals of 18.4 percent in 2007, 8.5 percent in 2008, 12.2 percent in 2009, 5.4 percent in 2010 and 5 percent in 2011.

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For the HSA accounts, the rates rose 9.7 percent in 2007, 4.7 percent in 2008, 3.2 percent in 2009, 2.1 percent in 2010 and were unchanged in 2011.

Typically insurers request lower rates for HSA accounts to persuade customers to take on a higher deductible for a lower premium cost.


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04 Aug, 2012

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