Dems Call for Hearing Over Insurance Hikes

Nashville Post, Aug. 31, 2016

By: Cari Wade Gervin

On Tuesday Nashville Democrats state Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons held a press conference calling for hearings on the massive insurance rate hikes approved last week for plans on the Affordable Care Act's state exchange.

"Those were the highest rate increases approved in the country, more than double the rate increases of the national average," said Yarbro of the rates approved last week by Department of Commerce and Insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. "And while about 85 percent of those on the exchange won't see that much of an increase, for those 15 percent who aren't covered by the subsidies — those people will see their premiums go up by a much as 46 to 62 percent. That is unacceptable." 

The legislators said they wanted to see the information Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and Humana gave McPeak to justify the dramatic increases in an effort to see if the state exchange can be stabilized — and as to whether the increases were politically motivated.

"The insurance commissioner hinted this was the result of 'uncontrollable national forces, but if you look at the reality here, Tennessee is almost an outlier," Yarbro said, pointing to other states with Republican governors like Arkansas, where insurers asked for a 14 price rate hike but were held to 9 percent.

The legislators also sent a letter to state Sen. Jack Johnson, the chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, and Rep. Steve McManus, the chair of the House Insurance and Banking Committee, requesting the hearings as soon as possible. McManus didn't return a call for comment, but Johnson said it won't be happening — at least, not now.

"I respect Sen. Yarbro and take it very seriously when another member of the Senate asks me to call a hearing," Johnson said. "We are still drafting a response, but we are not going to call for hearings at this point. We can certainly take it up in January at no additional cost to the taxpayers, if the body so wishes."

Johnson said the rate increases were "not a surprise" because the insurers all lost millions of dollars on the state exchange last year, although overall all three companies still had multimillion dollar profits. But Johnson said those profits shouldn't matter.

"It's a disaster," Johnson said. "The healthy people are just paying their fine instead of joining the exchange. It's unsustainable."

But Yarbro and Clemmons said the relative unhealthiness of the insured pool on the exchange could be improved if the state acted to expand Medicaid to close the coverage gap.