Wellmark forced to impose smaller health insurance premium hike

Roughly 46,000 Iowans who buy individual health insurance policies through Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield will face an average rate hike of 8.5 percent this year, instead of the 11 percent Wellmark requested. State Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss announced on Friday that she had approved a smaller rate increase, in part because of reviews conducted by two actuaries who said Wellmark's request was excessive. A law enacted in 2010 required an independent actuarial review whenever an insurer's proposed premium hike exceeds the medical inflation rate.

According to the Des Moines Register, Voss said in a January 28 press release

that her department would look into whether the company has appropriate levels of reserves. She said the department also would examine how Wellmark's dominant position in the Iowa market affects Iowans.

"We've heard the concerns of Wellmark's customers," Voss said.

"We think the time is right for a careful professional analysis of these two additional areas. We gained valuable insights from the extended review just completed that allowed us to arrive at the appropriate level of permitted rate increase. Learning more facts on these points will be useful in future considerations of rate adjustments."

Wellmark has a near-monopoly on the individual health insurance market in Iowa. The company is the provider for more than 70 percent of Iowans who purchase their own health insurance.  

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