Consumer Advocacy Group Protests CareFirst Rate Hikes

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Many Marylanders face sharp rate increases for health insurance after the Maryland Insurance Agency (MIA) approved requests by CareFirst, the state’s largest insurer.

The MIA on Aug. 29 approved increases averaging 34.5 percent for CareFirst’s HMO plans and 49.9 percent for its Preferred Provider plans for the individual market for 2018. The increases granted were pared back from CareFirst’s original request for more than 50 percent increases in its rates.

Other insurance companies also requested increases. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which accounts for nearly a third of the statewide market, requested increases averaging 25.1 percent across its plans. Uncertainty over what Congress may do to reform or possibly repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was largely to blame for the requested rate increases, according to a July report in the Baltimore Sun.

Leaders of Consumer Health First, the statewide consumer policy and advocacy organization, expressed deep concern about the effects of such a high rate increase on Marylanders and the stability of the state’s insurance marketplace.

The state’s decision will have devastating consequences for consumers and the long-term sustainability of the individual market,” said Leni Preston, president of Consumer Health First. “These rate increases are inconsistent with CareFirst’s statutorily mandated mission to provide affordable and accessible health insurance to its members.”

The premium hikes will especially harm Marylanders who do not qualify for a federal subsidy and could further destabilize the marketplace as healthier CareFirst customers either find a different carrier or drop coverage completely, Consumer Health First said in a news release Tuesday.

Beth Sammis, former acting commissioner of the MIA and a Consumer Health First board member, said, “It is time to hold CareFirst accountable for its performance in the individual market. CareFirst needs to demonstrate it is doing all it can to build a partnership with health care providers and consumers in the individual market to improve health and lower costs.”

Sammis called on the president and Congress “to take the steps necessary to guarantee the federal government will pay insurers the amount due for subsidies.” She said, “Failure to make these payments will result in even higher rate increases.” 

We also urge Governor Hogan and our elected officials to move forward with state programs to stabilize the individual market, such as a state reinsurance program, and to require the Commissioner to consider CareFirst’s statutory mission when reviewing rate filings in the future,” added Sammis.  

A previous analysis by Consumer Health First raised a number of concerns about CareFirst’s justification for its proposed hikes to premiums. It said that CareFirst remains on solid financial footing, with a surplus far exceeding what is required by law for a health insurer, despite its losses on the individual market since 2014.

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