By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – There was wide disparity in the numbers when commercial health insurers filed their requested rates for 2012 with the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.
UnitedHealthcare of New England had the highest ask: 20.1 percent for large group plans, for businesses with more than 50 employees, and 18 percent for small group plans, for firms with 50 or less employees.
UnitedHealthcare blamed its request for such high premium increases in part on previous reductions by the R.I Health Commissioner Christopher F. Koller. “The increases submitted in this filling reflect not only our current trends but also the impact of reductions in rates we filed last year,” said Stephen J. Farrell, CEO of UnitedHealthCare of New England, in a letter sent to Koller dated May 10.
UnitedHealthcare’s rate request also reflected the steep rise in costs of health care services. “Consumer utilization has moderated, people are not going to the hospital as often, but the unit price that we pay for services has gone up,” said Anayo Afolabi, United Healthcare spokeswoman.
UnitedHealthcare has about 210,000 members enrolled its health plans in Rhode Island.
The health insurer with the lowest rate request was Tufts Health Plan of Rhode Island, which asked for increases in premiums of just 4.8 percent for both its small and large group plans.
“We are exercising discipline on our administrative expenses, we have a lower pricing trend, and we are looking to grow in the small business sector in Rhode Island,” said Patti Embry-Tautenhan, Tufts spokeswoman. “The numbers speak for themselves. We believe small businesses will be interested in speaking with us.”
Tufts has about 25,000 members in Rhode Island, with the majority enrolled in large group plans.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island requested rate increases that put them in the middle between Tufts and UnitedHealthcare: 10.5 percent increases for both its small and large group health insurance plans.
“We don’t expect our customers and members to be happy about any rate increase,” said Dr. Gus Manocchia, vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross.
If it weren’t for cost reduction efforts undertaken by Blue Cross during the last two years, Manocchia said, “we would have been filing rate factors for a 20 percent increase.”
The reality is that health insurance premiums are simply a reflection of the ever-increasing cost of health care, he said. “And health care today is simply too expensive.”
Blue Cross has more than 600,000 members enrolled in its health plans in Rhode Island.
An analysis of the rate requests by OHIC is posted on its website, www.ohic.ri.gov/.