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By Richard Asinof
WARWICK – The Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner will conduct a public hearing on Jan. 17 on the request by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to raise its premiums an average of 4.4 percent for the five plans offered under its Direct Pay health insurance program.
The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. in a hearing room at the R.I. Public Utilities Commission; a second hearing time is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. for those who are unable to attend the morning hearing.
All written submissions for testimony must be received prior to the beginning of the hearing.
The rate increase requested by Blue Cross for its Direct Pay programs is smaller than in previous years.
In 2010, Blue Cross sought a 10.2 percent increase, which was reduced to 9.5 percent in a stipulated agreement.
In 2011, Blue Cross’s proposed rate hike of 7.9 percent was lowered to 1.9 percent by R.I Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller.
There are about 14,500 customers who are currently covered by Blue Cross’s Direct Pay plans.
Blue Cross is the only health insurer to provide coverage to these Rhode Islanders who customers do not receive health care through the workplace and are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.
Direct Pay plans are the only current option available for many of these Rhode Islanders until October 2013, when the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange is scheduled to begin operation as an online marketplace.
If approved, the rate hikes will go into effect on April 1, 2012, with rates proposed to be in effect for 18 months until Sept. 30, 2012.