Highmark softens low-income plan's price hike

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Two months after seeking a nearly 10 percent increase in premium rates for a low-income health insurance product, Highmark Inc. is pulling back on that request.

Instead, the Pittsburgh insurer will ask for a 4.9 percent increase to the monthly cost of Special Care, the lower-cost, lower-income "guaranteed issue" plan offered by each of the state's Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers.

The plan, which costs about $162 a month in this region for an individual, became the best available option for many of the area's working poor when the state legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett declined to continue funding the state's popular adultBasic health insurance. The state's policy cost $36 a month for an individual, but was not available after February.

In July, Highmark asked the state Insurance Department for permission to increase Special Care premiums by 9.9 percent for 2012; it also sought permission to raise premiums on other individual products.

The other rate hike requests remain unchanged, but Highmark said it was reducing the Special Care premium request and increasing the amount directed toward subsidizing the product to about $23 million, "due to the concerns we heard from various segments of the community."

If the 4.9 percent premium increase is approved, the new rate for an individual Special Care policy would be about $169 a month. Without the Highmark subsidy, the rates would be about 39 percent higher.

"They got some public push back on this," said Erin Gill, of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a health advocacy group that protested the proposed Special Care rate increase via petition.

"We're still opposed to any increase," she said. "We're still going to keep collecting petitions and urging people to call the insurance commissioner," even though the public comment period has expired.


Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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