December 27, 1995 in City

Rising Health Insurance Costs Looming State Worried Industry Is Targeting Individual Policy Holders For Increases

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Caroline Blakeman decided Tuesday to quit paying the family’s medical insurance bills and just hope everyone stays healthy.

Blakeman made that gamble after learning Blue Cross wants to charge $438 every two months to protect her family against expensive health care costs.

“I’m not going to pay them anything,” said the Colville woman, a married mother of two who works part-time at a bank.

Blakeman said the 27 percent increase in insurance costs would slash too deep into the family’s food budget.

The Blakemans are one of thousands of Inland Northwest families facing up to 30 percent hikes in health insurance bills next year.

As companies increasingly curb costs by limiting health insurance coverage, more part-time and even full-time workers are forced to find their own policies.

There are now more than 400,000 people in Washington who buy their own health insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, insurance companies are trying to raise rates and, in some cases, eliminate these individual policies.

A spokesman for state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn called the situation a crisis. Belle Taylor-McGhee said Senn is determined to protect individual policy owners.

She said an administrative law judge should decide this week whether Blue Cross can raise its individual policy holder rates by an average of 19 percent.

A judge also is reviewing a plan by Medical Service Corporation, Eastern Washington’s biggest health insurer, to terminate coverage to thousands of individual policy holders.

Insurance companies say they are losing big money on individual policy holders - in part because the state requires them to accept clients with expensive pre-existing health problems.

McGhee said Senn questions the accuracy of the companies’ figures.

“She isn’t saying they’re not losing money” on individual policy holders, McGhee said, but indicated Senn believes the loss figures might be exaggerated.

Blue Cross of Washington and Alaska claims it lost $10 million in the first six months of 1995. MSC estimates it will lose about $6 million this year.

A spokeswoman for Medical Service Corporation said she could not comment on the conflict with the state while it is under legal review. Efforts to elicit comments from Blue Cross officials were unsuccessful.

Caroline Blakeman said she’s caught in a strange predicament. She and her husband, who works at a hardware store, earn too much money to qualify for the state’s Basic Health Plan, which could provide far more comprehensive medical coverage at about half the cost.

The state plan is offered to people who can’t afford insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid.

“If I quit my job at the bank then we could get” the state plan, she said. “But I don’t want to become a burden on the state.”

, DataTimes


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