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Iowa OKs Wellmark premium increase

Jan 17, 2013

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa’s insurance commissioner on Wednesday approved a contentious premium increase requested by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, saying it was justified because of higher spending on health care services.

Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss said an independent actuary and one who works for her department agreed on the 12 to 13 percent increase requested by the state’s dominant health insurance provider, the Des Moines Register reported.

The increase will affect 150,000 individual policyholders who buy insurance on their own instead of through an employer.

Voss said in a statement that premiums will continue to increase until they get health care costs under control.

“It’s never easy to decide to raise rates,” she said. “It will impact all the people with this type of policy from this company, and some more painfully than others. The facts support the requested increase, in spite of the emotional resistance to do so.”

Dozens of policyholders had criticized the proposal through Wellmark’s website and at a recent public hearing.

Wellmark sells about 86 percent of the nonemployer health insurance policies in Iowa. It has been raising premiums for several years, including by 9.4 percent last year, 8.5 percent in 2011 and 18 percent in 2010.

The newspaper reported that Wellmark had previously said it needed more money to pay for higher costs of medical services for people with chronic ailments caused by problems like obesity. The insurance provider also said the increases are not connected to the federal health care reform law, which mostly goes into effect next year.

The proposal came as the company received criticism for how much money it pays Chairman John Forsyth. He received $3.1 million in 2011, more than double the $1.3 million he was paid in 2003.

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