PORTLAND — The time is coming when he will no longer be able to hold onto his campground business or keep his health insurance, Mike Stella said Tuesday.

“All of my salary and part of my wife’s goes to health insurance,” Stella said. “Another rate increase is probably going to put us over the top.”

Stella was among more than 20 people who spoke against proposed health insurance rate increases during a public comment session Tuesday evening at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Maine Insurance Superintendent Mila Kofman is holding a series of sessions around the state before ruling on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s requested rate increases for individual health coverage, which would take effect in July.

The increases average about 10 percent, but vary according to the policies and the ages of policyholders. The increases would apply to various HealthChoice plans and Anthem’s Lumenos plan.

Rates for individual policies are subject to state approval. The policies are purchased primarily by self-employed people and those who don’t have access to employer plans. About 11,000 policyholders in Maine have Anthem’s individual coverage.

Rates for such plans have been going up rapidly for years. The last increase, about 15 percent on average, took effect in October.

Stella said he and his wife spend about $989 a month on insurance premiums, and each of them has a $2,500 deductible. That means they must spend about $17,000 a year — more than his annual salary — on premiums and medical care before the Anthem policy starts to cover their costs.

Many people who spoke blasted Anthem for the year-after-year rate hikes when its parent company pays executives millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses.

Many said the costs are killing small-business and job growth.

Susan Gold and her husband own a small website production business in Biddeford and Portland. Because they spend $900 a month on premiums and each has a $3,000 deductible, they have no money to buy new equipment that could attract more customers.

“It has a huge impact on small businesses like mine,” she said. “We could use that money to expand our business, which would help the state and help everybody in the state.”

Elizabeth Beane, 56, a self-employed social worker in Gorham, said she relies on her health insurance to manage chronic migraine headaches. “Insurance is a necessity. Without it, I would be a nonentity,” she said.

But, she said, she is struggling to pay her $613 monthly premium and $2,500 deductible, which cost nearly $10,000 a year in total.

“Every year, it’s gone up,” she said. “I have no compassion for Anthem and the need for higher profits.”

John Costin, a business owner from Kennebunk, said the premiums to cover him, his wife and two children will go from $580 a month to $624 under Anthem’s proposal. The policy has a family deductible of $30,000, which means they can spend that much before the coverage takes effect.

“We ration our health care. We do whatever we need to for the kids. My wife and I delay trips to the doctor. We don’t fill prescriptions,” he said. “Does Anthem need the increases to cover their costs? No, they would just like to make more profits for their executives and shareholders.”

George Clark of Portland said he and his wife spend $723 a month for their insurance and have a $10,000 deductible. Their premiums and medical bills “ended up accounting for about 40 percent of our combined income last year,” he said.

The proposal could add about $70 a month to the premium. “We will once again have to worry about every doctor visit, every test, every medical procedure,” he said.

“This is not right,” said Libbet Cone, a social worker who pays $450 a month and has a $5,000 deductible. “I’m angry with Anthem, and I’m also angry with the commission for not … containing the insurance industry in this state.”

Christopher Dugan, an Anthem spokesman, said Tuesday that Anthem’s request reflects rising health care costs and the volatile individual market, which historically has lost money for Anthem.

As insurance costs rise, fewer healthy people keep coverage. As the pool of policyholders gets sicker, the premiums rise even faster, he said.

“The thought that there is somehow a profit derived from this is not correct,” he said.

Dugan said Anthem does not use profits from its other insurance businesses to keep individual premiums down because that wouldn’t be fair to policyholders in other markets, such as group plans.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]