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Health Insurance: The Hike Is in the Mail

Leroy Bridges, 52, a semiretired lobsterman from Deer Isle, Maine, pays for individual health insurance that has a high deductible, hoping to keep his premiums affordable. So when he got word from Anthem Blue Cross that his $450 bill would rise almost $100 per month—a 22 percent spike—he “had total astonishment,” Bridges says, especially after the company won a rate boost as high as 32 percent last year. “The hogs have come back to the trough to feed again.”

Across California, tens of thousands of self-insured clients age 50 and older covered by Anthem Blue Cross were told their rates will go up as much as 39 percent. And a survey by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, found that double-digit hikes have been implemented or are pending in at least 11 other states, including Virginia, Wisconsin and Georgia.

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, has filed a class action lawsuit against Anthem accusing the company of violating state law by forcing policyholders into high-deductible, lower-benefit plans. Many Anthem customers believe that the company—anticipating limits on future increases—raced to impose higher fees before Congress passed health care reform.

The company defends its proposed hikes, saying the recession forced many young, healthier customers to cancel their policies, leaving older customers to shoulder more of the financial burden. In any case, America’s five largest private health insurance firms had record profits last year.

Michael Zielenziger is based in Oakland, Calif.

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