HHS Chides Insurer For “Excessive” Premium Increases After Affordable Care Act Rate Audit

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking to publicly shame Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania for charging small businesses what HHS claims are “unreasonably high” premium increases.

According to HHS, its first federal rate review under the Affordable Care Act found that Everence’s 12 percent rate increase for small businesses in Pennsylvania.  After reviewing the rate, HHS says independent experts determined the choice of assumptions the company based its rate increase on reflected national data rather than reliable and available state data.  These assumptions resulted in what HHS characterizes as an “unreasonably high premium in relation to the benefits provided to small businesses by Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania.

While the Affordable Care Act gave HHS the ability to conduct and publish health insurer rate reviews but does not grant HHS the authority to actually force covered health insurers to change their rates.  While some state laws may give state regulators this authority, HHS’ authority remains limited to drawing public attention to carrier rate increases that HHS perceives as excessive. 

In an effort to use public opinion to chastise Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania, HHS is using its media might to publicize its findings.  “We have called on this insurer to immediately rescind the rate, issue refunds to consumers or publicly explain their refusal to do so,” said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

HHS’s announcement of its findings about Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania marks the first of many reviews that HHS will do in addition to insurance rate reviews already being done by states.  HHS says it intends to review all health insurer proposals to raise rates by 10 percent or more this year.

Targeting health insurers proposing rate increases of 10 or more percent is likely to result in a significant number of reviews.  A Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits 2011 Annual Survey found average premiums increased 8% for single coverage and 9% for family coverage through May, 2011.

Companies that HHS finds have made excessive rate increases can either reduce their rate hikes or post a justification on their website within 10 days of the rate review determination. As of publication, Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania had not published a public rebuttal to the HHS announcement on its website or indicated how it plans to respond to the announcement.  See here.

 For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have appeared in HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.

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