Blue Shield seeks to raise health care rates up to 59%

SACRAMENTO

The San Francisco based company has 3.3-million members, but only a fraction of those are facing the highest increase.

He's been on the job less than a week and already State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has had to play hard ball with Blue Shield, which just told nearly 200,000 California customers with individual health policies their rates are going up as much as 59% as of March 1st.

"I have asked that the company postpone its rate increase 60 days in order to afford me the opportunity to fully review the proposed rate increase," said State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

The move comes less than a year after Anthem Blue Cross tried but failed to get a 39% rate increase.

Blue Shield says its rate hike averages about 33%, but this would be their third rate hike since October.

San Diego resident Michael Fraser, who doesn't have insurance from his job, is seeing his monthly premium jump from $271 a month to $431 -- that's 59%.

"It's really devastating. I don't know what to do. I'm seriously considering cancelling my insurance and taking my chances. I'm 53 years old, and that's scary," said Fraser.

Blue Shield says medical costs for the individual market are rising rapidly, a trend the industry echos.

"They've been increasing and people, particularly people who buy insurance individually don't belong to a big pool of people like group health insurance. So when costs go up, they have to pay those costs in the form of higher premiums," said Patrick Johnson with the California Association of Health Plans.

In a statement, the health insurer says even with these rate increases, Blue Shield of California expects to lose tens of millions of dollars on its individual healthcare business in both 2010 and 2011.

There have been numerous attempts at the legislature to cap health insurance hikes, but they've been vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. The insurance commissioner has no authority to regulate health plans rates like he can with auto insurance.

"We need to take the next step which is to have real regulation and authority to deny unreasonable and unjustified rate increases," said Healthcare Advocate Anthony Wright.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer of Los Angeles will try this legislative session to give more authority to the insurance commissioner to stop rate increases, and he hopes Governor Jerry Brown will sign it.

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