Insurance Industry Inflates Rates While Falsely Blaming New Health Care Law

Health Care for America Now! (HCAN)
June 2010

The health insurance industry argues that rising medical costs are to blame for runaway premiums, but it’s clear that they are constantly looking for excuses to raise rates and expand their cash flows.

Premium hikes have surpassed the growth of medical costs, wages and overall inflation. From 2000 to 2008, premiums for families enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans increased 97 percent, while rates for individuals in workplace health plans climbed 90 percent. During that same period, private insurers’ payments to health care providers rose only 72 percent, medical inflation increased 39 percent, wages grew 29 percent and overall inflation climbed 21 percent. Health insurers are basing increases on something other than medical inflation, wages or general inflation.

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If you look beyond the inflammatory anti-private insurance rhetoric of this report (mostly appropriate, some perhaps not), you can find a few real numbers to help understand rising insurance costs. From 2000 to 2008, overall inflation increased 21 percent, but medical inflation increased 39 percent, while employer-sponsored insurance premiums increased 90 percent for individuals and 97 percent for families.

The fact that medical inflation grew faster than overall inflation supports the position of the private insurers that rising health care costs have necessitated higher premiums, but that isn’t the whole story.

Private insurers’ payments to health care providers increased at 72 percent, considerably higher than the rate of medical inflation. This supports the insurers’ position that failure of government reimbursement rates to keep up with medical inflation, especially in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, has resulted in a cost shift to the private insurers who are paying more to make up the differences. However, some economists have suggested that this merely represents a failure of the private insurance industry to hold down excessive price increases.

Even with medical inflation and public-to-private cost shifting, premiums have increased at a significantly higher rate. This likely represents both higher administrative costs and greater profits. If the insurance industry were efficient, the percent dedicated to administrative costs should actually decline since higher prices would reduce the percentage of premiums absorbed by each unit of administrative service.

Although the insurance industry has been evasive about the portion of premiums that are consumed by administrative services, the for-profit insurers have been required to report their profits and their medical loss ratios. From the 2009 data (included in this report) we know that their administrative costs are outrageously wasteful, and that their profits are at an all time high.

Today President Obama told representatives of the insurance industry to not raise their prices so high. Do you think that they will listen? It seems that he would be much more effective if he were to tell the public stewards of an improved Medicare for all to get the prices right.

The following is to clarify a legitimate concern of one of the qotd subscribers.

From the 6/22/10 message:

21% – general inflation
39% – medical inflation
72% – increase in private insurers’ payments to health care providers
90% & 97% – premium increases for individual and family health plans

General inflation and medical inflation refer to increased prices. Payments to providers and insurance premium increases refer to increased prices modified by increased volume and intensity of services.

Though the numbers should not be compared on a single scale, the principles are still the same as stated earlier. The rate of medical inflation (prices) has continued to increase in excess of the rate of general inflation. Insurance premiums have continued to increase in excess of the payments (prices x services) to providers.