Up, up and away
Insurance rates soar as health-care reform stalls
They were separate stories on the front page of Arkansas’ Newspaper the other day but they were part of the same go-for-broke pattern. And indeed the whole system is going broke. While still another attempt to reform health care in Washington flickered out because the Republicans in the congressional majority can’t seem to get their act together, Blue Cross and Blue Shield was asking for a 7.8 percent increase in its rates for buyers of health insurance in this state.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the state’s largest health-insurance company, covering more than 4 out every 5 beneficiaries of Medicaid in the state, and it’s out to raise its rates sharply. So folks who are enrolled in the mislabeled Arkansas Works system — because it doesn’t work, at least not very well — will be expected to pay much more for their coverage. Along with all the folks who aren’t eligible for help from Medicaid but buy insurance on their own rather than through their employer.
A couple of other companies that sell health-insurance policies have promptly gone along with Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s lead. Or anticipated it. Qual-Choice Health Insurance, based in Arkansas, says it wants to raise its rates an average of 22 percent, while Centene Corp out of St. Louis seeks to raise its rates by 9.9 percent on average. So reports the state’s Insurance Department, whose actuaries are supposed to keep up with all these facts and figures, Lord help them.
But what, the big-name politicians and tycoons worry? For them, happy days are here again. “It’s the economy, stupid,” as Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville used to say, and the economy is booming. For now. And the boom will doubtless continue till it turns into another bust. Some things just cannot be repealed, like the economic cycle. Somewhere, Gentle Reader can be sure, another set of bigtime operators are planning a big short. They’ll doubtless make a killing while the ratepayers are killed.
In a news release that sounded stale as soon as it was out of the can, this state’s governor and regulator-in-chief hyped his own Medicaid program along with “the insurance companies” “efforts to improve management” for holding insurance rates in this state down even as they continued to go up in actuality. Unbelievable— unless you’ve heard politicians who believe their own press releases sound off before.
“In the midst of the confusion and heated rhetoric about the future of health care insurance in our country, Arkansas has led the way in health-care reform,” pronounced the Hon. Asa Hutchinson, adding that “the result is that requested increases [in premiums] are much less than we are seeing nationally.” Who knew that Governor Hutchinson, amidst his myriad other duties, was keeping close tabs on healthcare insurance rates in every other state of the union?
The governor’s debatable appraisal of the whole country’s health-insurance market was dutifully seconded by Allen Kerr, the state’s insurance commissioner, who has assured all that “this round of initial requests [for higher insurance premiums] places Arkansas among the lowest in the country as many states are seeing companies ask for increases between 50 percent to 80 percent.” Just how much Mr. Kerr knows about insurance rates elsewhere may be a matter of speculation, but there’s no doubt he knows who his boss is—and is ready to do his part when it comes to keeping up a united front on this issue. Their joint message to the public: Smile, your health-insurance rates are going up!
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.