State increases scrutiny of some insurance rates

TOPEKA, Kan.: State insurance regulators are complying with part of the federal health insurance reform law that requires more scrutiny of health insurance rate increases above 10 percent at a time when Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is strongly opposing other provisions of the law.
The Kansas Department of Insurance has added more steps to increase scrutiny of requests for increases of 10 percent or more, which has been required by the federal Affordable Care Act since September. In the past, the state would conduct more stringent reviews of rate increase proposals of 12 percent or more.
“Kansas always looked very, very closely at rate increase filings,” said Linda Sheppard, the state insurance department’s director of the accident and health division and Affordable Care Act project manager. “If we decide we don’t think it’s a reasonable rate, we will work with the company to try to get it adjusted down.”
The insurance department is led by an elected commissioner, Republican Sandy Praeger, who isn’t part of the executive branch, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The state tries to make it difficult for insurance companies to raise rates more than 10 percent, Sheppard said.
Since the insurance provision took effect in September, Kansas has received four health rate increase filings above 10 percent.
Coventry Health and Life Insurance Co. and Coventry Healthcare of Kansas were granted 10.9 percent rate increases because of unexpected claim activity. Requests by John Alden Life Insurance Co. and Time Insurance Co. for 20 percent increases were reduced to 9 percent.
Anna Lambertson, executive director of the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, said a strong review process is important to protect consumers.
“Transparency is crucial for consumers to know whether or not they are getting a fair deal from their insurers,” she said.
Brownback has said the state would wait until after the November election to determine if it must comply with a separate provision of the law requiring states to set up a statewide exchange to help consumers comparison shop for health insurance. Brownback also said the state should not expand Medicaid programs as part of the federal health insurance overhaul.
He has said if President Barack Obama is not re-elected, all or part of the health care reform act could be repealed.
Sheppard said the state insurance department was using part of a $1 million federal grant to assess Kansas’ rate evaluation process.
“We’re looking at practices in other states. We are doing a full-blown, very thorough look at our process,” she said. -AP

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