The rate increase comes after nearly a month of public comments submitted to the review office by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office. Every year, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office hires independent experts to audit the health insurance industry.
In June, Mr. Tigue said the rate increase reflects “the continued need for insurers and providers to meet the cost of health care in order to support Rhode Island consumers and businesses.”
During public comment, Rhode Islanders were outraged by the increase.
“I’m just about to have it with a dose increase from it [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,” said Tigue.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, Neighborhood Health, UnitedHealthcare, and Tufts Health all offer small market plans. UnitedHealthcare requested the largest increase among all insurers at 12.3 percent under their HMO plan, and an increase of 10.7 percent under their PPO plan- which was reduced to 5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer with about 41,000 enrollees as of March in its small group plan, requested an 11.7% increase and was approved for a 9.7% increase.
Five insurers, which included Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, Tufts Health Plan, Aetna, and Cigna, offered the highest rates. Each was approved to increase prices, and was replaced. Aetna was approved for a 5.4 percent increase, Cigna a 5.7 percent increase, Blue Cross Blue Shield a 5.9 percent increase, and an 8 percent increase for the larger UnitedHealthcare plan.
Tufts Health Plans approved an 8.8 percent increase for its HMO plan and an 8.9 percent increase for its PPO plan.
In a memo At the beginning of August, Neronha reminded Tigue of his commitment in June to show “firmly” the prices again.
“OHIC has the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to affordable health care with the 2023 reviews by rejecting the unnecessary increases requested by insurers,” wrote Neronha before approving the prices. “This year’s rate hikes come at a time when inflation is at a 40-year high… More than 130,088 Rhode Islanders will have another rate hike to contend with if the rate hike is approved.”