California Approves Anthem Blue Cross Rate Hike

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The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters is seen on February 9, 2010 in Woodland Hills, California.

Months after the insurer withdrew a controversial request to raise premiums 39 percent, state regulators approved a hike that will average about 14 percent for individual policies.

Hey, health insurers, you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes (and fix the math in your application) you might just find you get approval for a slightly smaller rate hike after all.

In California, Anthem Blue Cross just got the go-ahead from the state for a rate hike averaging 14 percent on individual health policies starting Oct. 1. Some policies may cost as much as 20 percent more, but that's still a smaller bite than Anthem had first sought.

Earlier this year, the for-profit insurer asked California's Department of Insurance for the OK to charge 39 percent more for individual policies. The requested rate change quickly became a key talking point in the administration's push for passage of health overhaul.

California's head insurance honcho hired actuaries to comb through the Anthem application and found a bunch of errors that undermined the insurer's case for the big jump in premiums. Anthem, a unit of insurance giant WellPoint, withdrew the application and started over.

Now, the insurance regulators say Anthem got the math right and approved the hikes because at least 70 percent of premiums will go toward payment for medical care.

By holding Anthem's feet to the fire, California insurance regulators say they've saved consumers $184 million, the Los Angeles Times reported. The company figures the amount is south of $150 million.

"These savings were a clear benefit to Blue Cross' policyholders," said Deputy Insurance Commissioner Byron Tucker, according to the Times. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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