On the heels of recent criticism, Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan announced Monday that his department will hold a rare public hearing on Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield's health insurance rate requests for 2011.
Although Anthem has yet to formally file its rate requests, Sullivan appears to be taking a preemptive strike in setting a public hearing because of the large rate increases Anthem proposed for its 2010 rates.
Sullivan has come under fire by state and federal officials for recently approving a 47 percent rate hike for Anthem on certain new policies starting in the fourth quarter of 2010.
But that rate increase, and others that have been publicized by the media lately, will affect very few people or employers in Connecticut.
Currently, however, insurance companies, including Anthem, are preparing 2011 rate requests for renewal policies, which will impact most, if not all, employers and individuals who are covered by one of the five major health insurers that do business in the state.
As a result, those rate requests will likely get much more scrutiny from the public as they will affect a much wider portion of Connecticut's population.
In 2009, Sullivan held a public hearing on Anthem's proposal to increase rates up to 32 percent on policies sold to individuals. Sullivan subsequently approved a lower increase.
"Based on the ongoing rate increase requests and that Anthem holds a majority of the market share in Connecticut, I have determined it in the public interest to hold a public hearing on Anthem's 2011 rate filing," Sullivan said.
The insurance commissioner has discretionary authority to hold public hearings on rate filings.
Sullivan said he will exercise "his discretion to call for rate hearings, as he deems appropriate, constructive, and in the public interest."
Aetna Inc. is the only insurer so far to file rate requests for renewal business in 2011. The Hartford insurer has asked permission for an average rate hike of 17 percent for its policies sold to small employers in Connecticut.
Aetna is also requesting an average 16.1 percent increase on its small group high deductible health plans, which are becoming increasingly popular among Connecticut employers.
Sullivan has not announced hearings on Aetna's rate request.
The proposed rate changes would apply to both new business and renewal policies during the first quarter of 2011.
Once Anthem files its rate request, the insurance department plans to publish it on its Web site. Sullivan also said his department recently received a $1 million grant from the federal government to beef up its rate review oversight. The department will begin posting online all insurers' rate filings as part of that process.
Details of the Anthem public hearing will be made available once finalized, Sullivan said.