HHS Criticizes Rate Hikes, Defends Health Care Reform

The federal government has chimed in on Connecticut's decision to allow Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to raise premium rates as much at 47 percent for some customers.

The state Department of Insurance approved the rates, which took effect Oct. 1, and first drew criticism from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. He wrote a letter to Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan, asking why the department hadn't fully considered all of the facts about Anthem's rate request before approving it.

Sullivan shot back that Blumenthal should not be blaming him, but instead focus his ire at the newly enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "The rates that were filed and approved reflect the current cost to deliver care and the impact of more comprehensive benefit designs required under the federal healthcare reform law," Sullivan said. "If the attorney general wants to complain to someone, he should complain to Congress."

Now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has come down on Sullivan.

The Director of HHS's Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight Jay Angoff sent a letter to Sullivan Monday, urging him to reconsider the decision to approve the massive rate increases.

"The consumers of Connecticut expect and deserve transparency and a fact-based rationale as to why their rates are increasing," Angoff said in the letter. "The Affordable Care Act cannot be used to justify this huge rate hike and, in fact, includes provisions to empower States to shed light on and guard against this type of excessive insurer behavior."

Angoff cited a $1 million grant HHS made in August to the Connecticut Insurance Department (CID) through the Affordable Care Act. The money, Angoff said, was meant to enable the Insurance Department to improve its oversight of insurance company rates and determine if those rates were excessive.

"HHS therefore asks that the CID hold a hearing on the increase it has approved, test and validate the assumptions underlying that increase, and make all data filed by Anthem and all analyses of the filing by the CID and correspondence between CID and Anthem public," Angoff said.

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