The world watches Anthem Blue Cross…

We’ve long had issues with Anthem Blue Cross of California–both their practices and policy positions. That’s why we launched http://www.sickofbluecross.com/, to document these issues and collect stories of aggrieved Californians.

Anthem Blue Cross of California has gotten lots of attention in the past few days, due to its controversial increases of up to 39% for their customers in the individual insurance market, as first reported by Duke Helfand of the Los Angeles Times, who has followed up with reporting the fallout.

* President Obama cited–multiple times!–these rate increases on California consumers as one reason why he is continuing to pursue comprehensive health reform.

* HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to the CEO of Anthem Blue Cross of California, our state’s largest insurer, asking them to justify their increases of up to 39% for consumers in the individual insurance market.

* Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is investigating the increases, according to the Sacramento Bee. It’s indicative of how little oversight California currently places on these rates that the Insurance Commissioner is going to contract with an outside actuary to see if Anthem Blue Cross is complying with existing law.

* Congress is investigating as well. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has requested Wellpoint’s testimony on the subject of the rate increases. They are seeking documents as well as CEO Angela Braly’s presence at a February 24th Congressional hearing.

* California’s two Senators have weighed in as well, urging action and review at the state level. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Senator Boxer urged state Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate the proposed rate increases and Feinstein asked state Sen. President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, to introduce legislation to regulate rates.

* Assemblyman Dave Jones, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee and someone who has long carried a bill on rate regulation, is holding his own hearing on health insurance rates on February 23rd.

* Others, like Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic, have refuted Anthem’s explanations on the large increases, and explained why this situation would be prevented–or at least ameliorated–under health reform.

All of these government officials are right to question the premium spikes by California’s largest insurer. While we know health costs grow at a rate higher than inflation, they are not growin anywhere near 20%, 30%, or 39% in the past year. However good it is to have this scrutiny now, the point is we need this oversight on a regular basis, and that’s why we need health reform.

Anthem has been a longstanding opponent of health reform. Just a few months ago, Anthem Blue Cross was sending anti-health reform messages to their customers. Their new notices–about their premium increases–is the strongest message to date about why we urgently need health reform.

Consumers who buy coverage as individuals have no bargaining power, and are at the mercy of the big insurance companies. The benefits of health reform is to provide consumers with the power of group purchasing, so we all can get better rates for health coverage. Health reform would also put in place rate review, so insurers would have to justify their rate increases much more than they do now in California.

Health Access California will continue to host www.sickofbluecross.com, that contains more background of Anthem Blue Cross of California’s anti-consumer record, and is collecting stories of people’s experience with the insurer.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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