As Connecticut Evaluates Rate Hikes for 2021, Health Insurers Push Back on Reports of Large Profits

As the Connecticut Insurance Department deliberates over whether to allow insurance premiums to increase for 2021, health insurers pushed back against reports of large profits during the pandemic as premature.

On Aug. 5, the New York Times reported that many of the large insurance companies that serve Connecticut, including Aetna, Anthem and United Health Care, reported second-quarter earnings that were double what they earned in the previous year. 

Insurers, however, are predicting that these earnings will be offset by a coming increase in elective surgeries and treatments postponed due to the pandemic. Most said they experienced a decrease in claims in March and April, but these claims rebounded in May as doctor’s offices began to reopen. 

Anthem, which is requesting rate increases of between nine and 10 percent, argued that the financial ramifications of the pandemic may cause young people and people in good health to take their chances without insurance. Less-healthy individuals, on the other hand, would be more likely to remain enrolled, driving up costs. Anthem serves 53,000 individual and small group members in Connecticut. 

Others are predicting that increased COVID testing, and the eventual cost of a vaccine, will create added expense in the future.

Connecticare, which provides coverage to almost 80 percent of people who find insurance through the state’s health insurance marketplace, Access Health CT, pointed out that their company had acted to help consumers during the pandemic by offering premium credits, refilling prescriptions and waiving costs for doctors visits. The insurer is asking for rate increases of four percent for individuals and 10.3 percent for small groups in its off-exchange plans. 

In a statement released in July, Connecticut Insurance Department Commissioner Andrew Mais vowed to examine this year’s proposed increases “with a fine-toothed comb.” 

Public reaction

In a public hearing last week, Lynne Ide, the director of programs and policy at the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, a nonprofit organization that advocates for “a democratic health system that provides universal access to quality, affordable health care,” likened the proposed increases to “pouring salt on the wounds” of people already struggling to pay for health care. 

“This is not the time for any health insurance premium increases,” said Ide. “People just can’t afford it.”

Neil Kelsey, chief actuary at Connecticare and the company’s spokesperson at the hearing, said he believes that the added stressors of the pandemic — lost jobs, having children stuck at home — will decrease people’s health and add to the cost for insurers.

“Overall, I think the population will get sicker,” he said. 

For the Reverend Joshua Pawelek, Minister of Unitarian Universalist Society: East, located in Manchester, that stress is a reason why the companies should not be allowed to increase rates. 

“[Rate increases] will absolutely become one more source of excruciating stress in our lives, ” Pawelek testified at the hearing.

He told Connecticut Examiner that he was surprised that only three people came out to speak against the proposed rate increases. “I thought there would be hundreds,” he said. 

According to Pawelek, his church has struggled to provide insurance for its five full-time and one part-time employees. He said that rate increases have added as much as $10,000 to the church’s annual budget, an expense that this year — with a lack of donors and inability to fundraise due to the pandemic — they cannot afford. 

“It’s not just an economic issue, it’s a moral issue,” Pawelek said. “Where is the compassion?” 

According to a survey of over 940 residents conducted in May for Altarum’s Healthcare Value Hub, 51 percent of respondents “experienced healthcare affordability burdens in the past year.” 44 percent “encountered one or more cost-related barriers to getting healthcare during the prior 12 months.”

Other states have approved modest rate increases in recent months.

In August, New York approved an overall increase in insurance premiums of 1.8 percent in the individual market and 4.2 percent in its group market, both record lows. Delaware announced a decrease of one percent in individual rates, and three percent for small group premiums. Rhode Island, approved a weighted average increase of 4.2 percent in premiums for its individual markets.

Connecticut will release its official rates in mid-September.