Rates through the roof

Anthem’s outrageous health-insurance hikes show why reform is needed

Just when Californians seem to have forgotten what health-insurance reform was all about, along comes Anthem Blue Cross to remind them. In a decision that reverberated across the country and into the corridors of the nation’s Capitol, the giant health-insurance firm opted to raise premiums on its individual policies—held by some 800,000 people—by a whopping 25 percent on average, and in some cases by as much as 39 percent.

President Obama called the spike in premiums “just a preview of coming attractions” if Congress failed to pass insurance reform.

Anthem’s parent company, Indianapolis-based WellPoint, explained that it had raised the rates because, in the recession, it had lost many clients and been forced to cover the increase in medical costs. It pointed out that health insurance is in what it calls a “recessionary death spiral,” with healthy people opting out of coverage because of the recession, making the remaining risk pool sicker and more expensive to insure. That in turn pushes insurance costs up, driving more people from the market.

There’s truth to that, and the company is correct in stating that costs can’t be contained without legislation that requires everyone to have health insurance so risks can be spread out. But 39 percent? That’s shameful, and the state Legislature should look into it.