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Regence Refuses to Publicly Share Information on Rate Hike

Meanwhile the Oregon Insurance Division has approved a 12.2 percent rate increase for people who purchase their own coverage through Providence Health Plan
August 23, 2012

August 24, 2012 – A proposed 9.6 percent rate increase by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon looks like it will be decided behind closed doors. That increase would impact nearly 53,000 Oregonians who purchase their own coverage starting in December.

Following a public hearing held last month, Division officials have repeatedly asked Regence for more details about the increased costs from its five provider networks -- Providence Health System, Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Health, Tuality Health and Adventist Health.

“We feel like we have to have a way of proving that those numbers are accurate,” said Cheryl Martinis, spokesperson for the Insurance Division.

Until now Regence has refused to share that information. But yesterday, its president, Don Antonucci, told Division officials they could review those documents at its Portland offices.

“Regence objects to publicly producing documents that would result in competitive harm to Regence and, more importantly, its current and future members,” according to a letter Antonucci sent to Lou Savage, Oregon’s Insurance Commissioner.

“The documents requested by the OID are proprietary and critical to Regence’s ability to successfully compete in the Oregon marketplace,” he wrote. “The requested information seeks details on how Regence contracts and the actual pricing with its health delivery
systems to keep healthcare costs as low as possible for its members. Disclosure of this information to Regence’s competitors and its health delivery systems would weaken the current competitive advantage that Regence uses to assist its current and future members.”

Reviewing these documents in private would not be standard practice for the Insurance Division, said Jesse Ellis O’Brien, healthcare advocate for the OSPIRG Foundation. House Bill 2009, passed by the Oregon Legislature, requires the Insuance Division to consider the potential impact of a rate increase on consumers, not just the competitive impact on insurers, he said.

“We question the transparency of this process, and this raises serious questions for us,” he said.

Providence Rate Increase Approved

Meanwhile, the Insurance Division has approved a 12.2 percent rate increase for Providence Health Plans that will affect nearly 23,000 people starting November 1. Initially, Providence had requested a 15.7 percent hike.

That decision was applauded by OSPIRG, and means that consumers will save up to $1 million a year in healthcare costs, said Ellis O’Brien.

“Although it’s a large increase, we applaud the Insurance Division for reducing the increase,” he said. Earlier, OSPIRG had questioned the trend projections by Providence, claiming they were not fully justified.

More information on the Providence decision is available here.

More on Regence’s Request

While the Insurance Division continues to review Regence’s rate request, people from throughout the state have been submitting public comments calling upon Regence to be part of the solution rather than asking for more money.

“In the end I call upon Blue Cross to be part of the solution to rising health care costs; however, as long as you continue to approve rate hikes, they will have no incentive to dig deeper for answers than my pocketbook,” according to G. Costello of Lake Oswego.

“I am writing to voice my concern as a long time Blue Cross member for the direction Blue Cross continues to go in, and that is to solve rising health care costs on the backs of individual plan members like myself. I was recently notified that the plan which we
have been carrying for about two years now is disappearing, only to be replaced by plans which offer higher deductibles and less coverage. How's that for service!? It's bad enough that premiums have been skyjacked high on individual plan members over the years, but then to get less coverage at the same time, well, it's very discouraging.

“I don't discount that you face increasing costs too. I just question your commitment to solving the problem. Instead of joining forces with the powers that be to really figure out how to reduce health care costs, I only see you finding ways to pay for them by charging
your members more and then providing them with less.

“Of course, we continue to stay with Blue Cross so you could counter we have a choice, but do we? Jumping ship is not easy and I'm not sure it's better anywhere else. But I'm just truly upset that you keep going to the well which is my pocketbook to solve the
problems while I'm doing my darndest to manage my health care, live a healthy lifestyle, not abuse the system, and I don't get much reward for it, just a notice that the plan I decided was best for my family is now no longer an option and I have to choose from
options, neither of which appeal to me.

“I would be very impressed if insurance companies like Blue Cross could become part of the solution instead of part of the problem of rising health care costs. I hope you find it in your leadership capacity to channel your company and the industry in that direction,
instead of settling for the patchwork approach which has made my insurance premiums skyrocket while my coverage declines.

To read more comments from people upset about the potential rate increase and read the correspondence between the Insurance Division and Regence, click here.