A wild story out of Maine.
Anthem Health Plans of Maine, a subsidiary of WellPoint, is suing the state because they want to increase premium rates by 18.5% on their 12,000 individual insurance policy holders, so they can guarantee themselves a 3% profit margin. This story shows how silly it would be to solely rely on regulation to rein in insurance industry practices.
Like many other states, Anthem Health Plans hold a monopoly on the individual insurance market in Maine, controlling 79% of all the plans. Also like many other states, they are licensed to sell insurance through the Department of Insurance, who must clear all rate increases prior to implementation. Originally, Anthem Health Plans were a nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield corporation licensed to practice in Maine since 1939. In 1999, Anthem bought the business and began to operate it as a for-profit company. Since that point, Anthem has raised premium rates 10 times, and 8 of those times have been double-digit rate increases.
The average individual Maine rate-payer is paying four times as much for insurance than they did ten years ago.
But this isn’t good enough for Anthem Health Plans. They first proposed a 14.5% rate increase for its individual insurance products, then they revised it up to 18.1% and finally 18.5%. This is an average increase. Some plans would see increase of 24.5%, some 38.4%, and for its Preventive Care and Supplemental Care Accident rider, which is part of 1/3 of all their policies, Anthem proposed a rate increase of 58.2%. This amounts to Maine consumers paying $12 million more in annual premium dollars for the exact same level of benefits.
Anthem isn’t hurting for profit. Their Maine operations have generated an average annual return of $70 million dollars over the last five years. Anthem paid dividends to their parent company, WellPoint, of $75 million dollars last year alone, and $152 million since 2006. Their nine highest-paid employees totaled over $4.3 million in compensation. The individual market, while a smaller portion of their overall business, still generated $5.4 million in profit over the last two years.
The reason Anthem desires these rate raises is because their actuarial charts show they can guarantee a 3% profit through this increase. That’s an estimate, however, and in 8 of the last 10 years the profit margin achieved has actually been higher. The Maine Superintendent of Insurance ruled in May 2009 that the 3% profit and risk margin sought was “excessive and unfairly discriminatory,” as per the laws of the state, and instead approved a rate increase of 10.9% for Anthem. Given the recession, the financial health of the company, and the years of large rate increases, there was no way she could approve anything higher.
So Anthem sued the state. But not after filing revised rates at a 10.9% increase so they could get that going while they litigated for an even higher rate.
The Superintendent of Insurance explained in a court filing that there is no statute mandating that Maine must provide Anthem or any other insurer with a guaranteed profit. Given Anthem’s ability as a large operation to cut costs, just as any family must do during a recession, the Superintendent argued there is nothing preventing them from making a profit with a 10.9% rate of premium increase. But Maine is under no obligation to guarantee one. That would be a “socialized profit,” which Anthem is asserting the right to without any legal basis in fact. Furthermore, policyholders have contributed $17.4 million in profit to Anthem’s bottom line over the past decade, which should be more than enough to cover potential losses from just the individual insurance line this year.
Anthem argued that they were discriminated against relative to other companies in Maine because one other individual insurer was provided a 3% profit and risk margin (that company, MEGA, asked for 2.2% rate increase back in 2007, a far different scenario). This, the corporation said, violated their equal protection rights under the federal and state Constitutions. This is a laughable claim, that the state must guarantee a profit for every insurance company licensed to provide a product. It’s nowhere to be found in the Maine Insurance Code, and the Superintendent of Insurance is allowed under Maine law to consider each company’s situation individually. In this case, she ruled that a 18.5% increase in premiums would be unfair and excessive.
This is a very revealing case. Those arguing against a public option claim that insurance regulations alone will be sufficient to provide an affordable product for everyone. Here’s a case where Maine is attempting to regulate the industry, and the industry sues the state in an effort to grab more profit. While claiming to be on the side of reform, they will fight tooth and nail, and can be expected to do so for every regulation in the national health care bill, right down the line.
Brave New Films has put together a video exposing the practices of Anthem and its parent company WellPoint. You can send your friends in Maine the news about this lawsuit, to highlight this practice. Maine Superior Court will consider this case on Wednesday.
From Maine Superior Court, Civil Action, Docket No. AP-09-29
Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc., d/b/a Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield v. Superintendent of Insurance, et al.