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Consumer group asks Steve Poizner to release Anthem Blue Cross rate-hike documents

March 18, 2010 |  2:59 pm

A consumer group Thursday called on California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner to release all documents related to his investigation of proposed double-digit rate increases by Anthem Blue Cross for customers who buy individual policies.

Consumer Watchdog also asked Poizner to hold at least four public hearings across the state as part of his probe into premium increases by California’s largest for-profit insurer.

Woodland Hills-based Anthem agreed to delay its rate hikes of as much as 39% until May 1 while an outside actuary, hired by Poizner’s office, reviews the company’s spending on medical claims. State law requires insurers in the individual market to devote at least 70% of their premiums to healthcare.

A Poizner spokesman said the state Department of Insurance was evaluating the group’s demands, outlined in a letter to Poizner.

“We always value the input of Consumer Watchdog,” spokesman Darrel Ng said. “The requests contained in the letter are all already under consideration by the department.”

Anthem’s rate hikes, averaging 25% for many of its 800,000 individual policyholders in California, have been criticized by consumer groups, regulators, members of Congress and the Obama administration. During a congressional hearing last month, House Democrats accused Anthem’s parent, WellPoint Inc., of padding its proposed rates as a negotiating tool with state regulators. WellPoint executives disputed the allegation, saying they did not learn of Poizner’s concerns until a Times story in early February revealed widespread objections by policyholders and insurance brokers.

Consumer Watchdog filed a public records request Thursday asking Poizner to release  Anthem’s rate filings, all actuarial data provided to his office and all correspondence with the company over the increases. Among the information sought by the group is the independent study of Anthem’s spending practices by Axene Health Partners, a Southern California actuarial firm. The report is expected in mid-April.

“Any kind of a closed-door process will be met with outrage by Californians,” said Jerry Flanagan, the organization’s healthcare policy director. “Without a public forum for this investigation ..... the public will distrust it as some kind of preconceived plan by the regulator and the company he is supposed to be overseeing.”

-- Duke Helfand
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