By Tracy Dingmann
Just in case it wasn’t already crystal clear why Governor Martinez needs to sign the health insurance rate review bill SB208 before the Friday bill deadline, along comes a timely – and revolting – example of just how little control New Mexico consumers have over astronomic changes in their health care rates.
Yesterday (April 6), State Insurance Superintendent John Franchini announced his approval of a 21 percent rate increase for customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico. The rate increase will affect about 40,000 policyholders in New Mexico.
Franchini’s decision affirmed the settlement of a rate case that had been reached last year by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Insurance Division of the Public Regulation Commission and the Attorney General’s office. However, public criticisms of the settlement forced its reconsideration.
In the wake of Franchini’s decision, several members of the PRC issued statements objecting to the rate increase, but saying they had no power to overturn the superintendent’s decision.
The rate increases will devastate the unlucky families they affect – but the fact that such huge increases passed despite public outcry (and opposition on the PRC) highlights the impotence we all have when it comes to insurance rate hikes.
The remedy, SB208, is on the Governor’s desk right now. SB208 would provide transparency and accountability for consumers by forcing insurance companies to reveal key factors behind proposed rate increases, such as the company’s overall financial picture. It would also insure public comment on rate hikes and give consumers increased information, such as how much of their premium has been spent on actual medical care.
For the sake of us all, please sign that bill already, Governor.
CORRECTION: The PRC approved the BCBS 21 percent hike in August – Franchini’s decision merely affirmed it. The actual rate hike already took place. According to this KUNM story by reporter Peter St. Cyr, PRC commissioner Jason Marks said the hike forced thousands of New Mexicans to drop their BCBS policies.
In the KUNM story, Commissioner Marks endorsed SB208, saying this about the increases:
“We’re not talking about $10 dollars a month. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars a month. We’re talking about life and death decision for families. We’re not going to solve all of the health care problems in the United States with this legislation, but we’ll have the tools to make things better, and at least give consumers a fighting chance.”