PORTLAND — More than 200 people rallied in a downtown park Thursday to protest Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s rising health insurance rates and demand national reforms.

“Our leaders need to stand up to Anthem and stand up for the people of Maine,” said Sarah Holland of Camden, drawing cheers from the crowd. “A vote ‘no’ (on national reform) is a vote ‘yes’ for Anthem and its abusive practices.”

Protesters held signs accusing Anthem and the insurance industry of putting profits before people. “Big Insurance — Sick of it,” one read.

They marched around the Cumberland County Courthouse chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Anthem’s greed has got to go!”

Holland and other speakers at the rally in Lincoln Park urged Congress to pass federal reforms to extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans and help contain costs for those who have insurance.

Speakers also blasted Anthem, which is fighting Maine Insurance Superintendent Mila Kofman in court in an effort to raise rates for individual insurance policyholders, who don’t get coverage at work or qualify for government programs.

Kofman limited this year’s rate increase to 10.9 percent instead of the 18.5 percent that the company requested. Anthem is asking a Superior Court judge to overturn the decision. Oral arguments in that case had been scheduled for today in Cumberland County Superior Court, but have been postponed until Wednesday.

“They wanted a guaranteed profit and the insurance superintendent said ‘No,’ ” Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, told protesters Thursday. “Let’s give her a hand.”

Anthem’s proposed 23 percent increase in individual premiums for next year also drew criticism. Nearly 40 percent of those policyholders already have to spend $15,000 before collecting on any insurance claims, according to a state report.

“Anthem is asking Mainers to pay 23 percent more for a policy with a $15,000 deductible,” said Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive from Philadelphia. “That’s a sweet deal for Anthem, but it’s not a good deal for Maine.”

Chris Dugan, Anthem’s spokesman, defended the company in a written statement late Thursday.

Kofman’s rate decision for this year did not allow any margin for profit or risk, he said. “As the only major carrier in the state still actively marketing individual products, we have a strong responsibility to ensure that there are adequate resources to meet the medical needs and fund medical claims of our members,” he said.

Dugan also said the 23 percent increase proposed for next year is necessary because of rising medical costs and because the current rates are too low.

“The level of rate increase requested is necessary to ensure that we can cover projected member claims and expenses,” he said.

About 20,000 Mainers have individual coverage with Anthem and would be subject to the increases.

Premiums also have been rising quickly for many more Mainers who get insurance through work, whether from Anthem or another company. Those premiums increased nearly 70 percent from 1999 through 2008, adjusted for inflation, a national report said this week.

The battle over Anthem’s individual rates has become a rallying point for those who want broader reform.

Kate Williams of Windham is not an Anthem policyholder, but went to Thursday’s rally with her 10-month-old son, Gavin, to help push for broader change in the system.

She and her husband had individual insurance through a different company, but had to drop it last year after she got pregnant and the premiums doubled. “It would have been close to $1,000 (a month) for the two of us,” she said.

Williams and her son are now insured through MaineCare, a state-subsidized insurance program. But she said she hopes national reforms will make insurance affordable again.

“I don’t want to be on MaineCare,” she said.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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