Premium increases deserve utmost transparency

By the Editorial Board
Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle, Sept. 23, 2016

When Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana recently pared back its planned health insurance premium increases from 65.4 percent to 58.4 percent after a state analysis found them to be too high, it begged an important question: If the company can get by with lower rate increases now, why was it demanding so much in the first place? And how much less could it get by with and remain profitable?

State Auditor and Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen says the planned hike in premiums is still too large, and BCBS is challenging that. So be it. But the financial data the commissioner’s office used in its analysis needs to be scrutinized carefully — by all of us. The only other two providers on the Montana Health Insurance Exchange are raising their rates by 30.7 percent and 27.6 percent respectively — roughly half the increases that BCBS is planning.

Health insurers must suffer from some kind of memory deficit disorder. It was just a half dozen years ago that lawmakers in Washington debated cutting private companies out of the health insurance business altogether by establishing a single-payer system — essentially Medicare for everyone. Through compromise, the private companies are still providing the coverage under the Affordable Care Act, although they are required to meet certain coverage minimums.

Exorbitant premiums are going to reignite that debate. And the single-payer option is going to win more and more supporters as conservatives and liberals alike wake up to the fact that private health insurance in its current form is a millstone around our economic neck.

Yes, a single-payer system would mean more federal withholding from our paychecks. But it would lift the onus of $10,000-plus in annual premiums we pay for health insurance now — whether individually or through our employers.

Lindeen’s office needs to make her analysis public along with explanations the layman can understand for why any rate increases are justified.

Health insurance is no longer an option under the Affordable Care Act. It really never was for responsible individuals. So we have a right to maximum transparency in the process by which the premiums we pay are set.

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