The rate hike comes after nearly a month of public comments were sent to the office for review by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office. Each year, Attorney General Peter F. Nerogna’s office hires independent actuaries to evaluate proposed increases by health insurance companies.
Tighe said in June that the proposed rate hike demonstrates “the continued need for a shared responsibility between insurers and providers to address the core costs of health care to promote affordability for Rhode Island consumers and businesses.”
During a public hearing, Rhode Islanders expressed outrage at the increase.
“I almost had it with the rate hike from [Blue Cross Blue Shield,” wrote Mark De Binder in an email to OHIC. He said his and his wife’s plan has gone from $800 to $2,400 per month since 2012. “And we don’t have any un-normal health situations.”
Clay Moore, a sales and business development manager, said all Rhode Islanders are facing “excessive increases” in gas prices, rent, property taxes, groceries, and utility bills, and it is “unconscionable to raise” rates.
Neronha told the Globe in a statement Wednesday that there appears to be a “presumption” by most insurers that their rates must go up every year, regardless of prevailing economic and other conditions.
“If healthcare costs are rising, it is the public alone who must bear the full weight of those rising costs,” said Neronha in his statement. “And it is a clever game that these insurers play. They typically ask for the moon, recognizing that they are likely to get less, yet secure in the knowledge that the lesser amount they are virtually guaranteed to receive will nevertheless be an enormous win.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island requested plans to be sold on the individual market for people who do not receive insurance through their employer. Blue Cross Blue Shield requested a 9.6 percent rate increase, but was approved for a 3.1 percent rate increase into the next year. Neighborhood requested a 6.8 percent increase, but after the Attorney General’s office recommended a 9.8 percent increase, Tigue approved a 8.2 percent increase — which will impact the more than 25,000 people enrolled in the plan.
Brian Hodge, a spokesman in the Attorney General’s office, said Neronha urged Tigue to “deny all requested increases, except for Neighborhood’s in the individual market.”
“This year, like last year and the year before, we advocated that OHIC use its discretion to deny the requested premium increases. We did this, despite our own retained actuaries’ analysis, because I believe they are nevertheless not justified given current, overall economic conditions,” said Neronha in his statement to the Globe. “The only exception was a single instance where, based on our actuaries’ opinion, an increase to Neighborhood’s rates in the individual market was necessary to ensure the company’s solvency and thereby maintain consumer choice in that market.
Last year, Tigue approved a 3.5 percent rate increase for Neighborhoods individual market plans.
“My office has conducted a thorough review of the rate filings, public input, and considered the actuarial recommendations provided by the [Attorney General’s office] in all markets,” Tighe said.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, Neighborhood Health, UnitedHealthcare and Tufts Health plan have all filed small group marketplace plans. UnitedHealthcare requested the largest increase of any insurer at 12.3 percent for its HMO plan and a 10.7 percent rate increase for its PPO plan, which were reduced to 5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, which as of March had nearly 41,000 enrollees in a small group plan, asked for an 11.7 percent increase and was approved for a 9.7 percent increase.
Five insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, Tufts Health Plan, Aetna and Cigna, filed large group rates. Each was approved for increased rates with modifications. A 5.4 percent increase was approved for Aetna, a 5.7 percent increase for Cigna, a 5.9 percent increase for Blue Cross Blue Shield and an 8 percent increase for UnitedHealthcare’s large group plan.
Tufts Health Plan was approved for an 8.8 percent increase for their HMO plan and an 8.9 percent increase for their PPO plan.
In a memo in early August, Neroña reminded Tighe of his June commitment to “sternly” review those proposed rates.
“OHIC has an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to affordable health care through the 2023 rate review, rejecting the unnecessary rate increases requested by insurers,” Neronha wrote before approving the rates. “This year’s rate hike requests come at a time when inflation has reached a 40-year high … More than 130,088 Rhode Islanders will face another rate hike if the rate hike is approved.”