PORTLAND – Calling a proposed 23 percent health insurance rate increase excessive and unfair in a weak economy, dozens of people pleaded with the state Bureau of Insurance to deny Anthem’s request for a rate hike in Maine.

About 100 people, most of them private individuals or small-business owners, testified against the rate increase, as well as one proposed by MEGA Life and Health, during a hearing Monday at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield filed a request for a rate adjustment for its HealthChoice and Lumenos products on Jan. 4, to become effective July 1.

According to the state, Anthem anticipates an average rate increase of 22.9 percent, affecting 11,066 policy holders.

”I find it unbelievable that in this economy where there are so many unemployed people that Anthem has the gall to ask for a rate increase. I am angry,” said Larry Paul, a small-business owner from Woolwich.

Monday’s hearing drew a passionate crowd of people who would be affected by the rate increase.

Anthem will have a chance to justify its proposal before the Bureau of Insurance in April.

MEGA is asking for a rate increase of 21 percent for small group policies and 12.5 percent for individual policies. Its increase would affect about 7,770 policy holders.

The state says that Anthem and MEGA Life and Health are the primary providers of individual health insurance policies in Maine. Most of those policies come with high deductibles.

Greg Howard is spokesman for Maine Change That Works, a nonprofit grassroots organization whose mission is to promote progressive change such as health care reform.

Howard pointed out that in each year since 2005, the state has approved Anthem’s rate-increase requests for individual policy holders. About 88 percent of those policy holders now have deductibles of $5,000 or more.

”What Anthem is asking for now is to get another 23 percent increase on a policy that is not worth the paper it is written on,” Howard said.

Richard Dudley and his wife, Denise, of Old Orchard Beach asked the Bureau of Insurance to deny Anthem’s request. Dudley, who is retired and living on a fixed income, said if the increase goes through, their deductible will increase to $10,000.

”What’s next? Bankruptcy,” the 73-year-old said.

His wife, who is 56, said she needs health insurance to pay for treatment related to her diabetic condition.

Denise Dudley, who works part time, also suffers from food allergies that cause her to break into hives, which has necessitated hospital visits in the past.

She said she doesn’t think it fair for Anthem to charge anyone more for insurance ”when people are getting laid off left and right.”

Lee Roberts, a teacher’s aide from Alna, said she will likely be laid off from Georges Valley High School in Thomaston.

”This rate hike will affect the most vulnerable of Maine people, the people like me who are about to be laid off,” Roberts said. Mila Kofman, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Insurance, presided over Monday’s hearing, which lasted more than three hours.

Kofman’s agency will host a second public hearing at Husson University in Bangor. That meeting, scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m., will be held in the university’s Libra Lecture Hall.

A study conducted by the Bureau of Insurance showed that most of the policy holders who would be affected by Anthem and MEGA’s rate increases live in southern Maine.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]