Health insurance surplus more than enough for now

July 3, 2012 

Insurance companies get a lot of grief.

Sometimes, they deserve it. Such is the case with Regence BlueShield.

Within a span of two weeks, it was announced that the company had a surplus of more than $1 billion, and then Regence BlueShield promptly requested an increase on rates at an average of 14.7 percent for Washington residents who buy their own health insurance.

So, the company has a huge surplus -- far greater than required -- but it's asking for a exorbitant increase in rates? And for one of the most hard-hit groups -- people who buy their own coverage for themselves and their families.

It is appalling.

Of course, the company says the increase is necessary. And the actual rate would vary, depending on individual plans and other factors.

"We understand that it's becoming harder for individuals to afford the increasing cost of health care," said Jonathan Hensley, president of Regence BlueShield of Washington. "But as dozens of carriers have abandoned this fragile market over the years, Regence is doing our best to continue offering a comprehensive set of affordable benefits to serve Washingtonians, even as we predict a loss of $4.5 million in business this year."

It's brazen, considering that customers have covered that loss many times over. It's a move that should spark outrage.

The company even acknowledges that it's difficult for individuals to find insurance, practically making it sound like a favor to offer those kind of plans at all.

Lucky for us, we have Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who recently pointed out that Regence "could continue to lose $4.5 million annually for the next 220 years and it would still have a surplus."

Maybe Regence needed some help with the math -- Kreidler's calculation makes it pretty clear that the request is ludicrous.

And Kreidler is the man who would have to approve Regence BlueShield's request for the nearly 15 percent increase for customers who purchase their own insurance.

Good luck with that, Regence.

The Oregon branch of the company recently asked for a 6.4 percent increase. After the state reviewed the matter and objections were made, the company withdrew its request.

"Any future rate request will face the same thorough scrutiny," Kreidler said.

Regence has offered myriad reasons why it believes an increase is warranted, but none of them seem too pressing when the company has $1 billion in reserves.

Instead, the requested rate increase is so unreasonable that it surely will give the company a bad case of the public relations blues.

If Regence BlueShield were a for-profit enterprise, we'd chalk it up to greed.

We expect Kreidler will keep the interests of the citizens of Washington at the forefront and tell Regence where to go with its request for a rate increase.

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