The Billings Outpost

Insurance rates examined

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

MISSOULA – Getting a second opinion is standard procedure when facing health problems, and a local consumer advocate wants the same standard in place for health insurance rate hikes. 

Steph Larsen, an assistant director for the Center for Rural Affairs in Missoula, says oversight can save Montanans money. She says an insurance company that operates in both Montana and South Dakota wanted to raise rates by 18 percent last year. The hike wasn’t questioned in Montana, but in South Dakota, it was found not to be reasonable.

“It was knocked back to eight percent because South Dakota has the authority to question whether the rate hike of 18 percent was justified.”

Larsen claims reviewing rates helps keep insurers honest, and it’s up to the state legislature to set a rate review law. Insurance companies have resisted reviews, saying that consumers can switch companies if they don’t like rate hikes. Larsen adds that most states review rate increases: only three do not.

Larsen says a competitive marketplace would work in Montana to control insurance rates if there were a host of competitors, but that’s not the case in Big Sky Country.

“Health insurance really isn’t a free market system right now in Montana, because two insurers control over 80 percent of the market.”

Larsen says the state should seriously look at ways to keep health costs down, because those are factored into rate hikes. She also wants the state to consider expanding Medicaid, so more families will receive regular care rather than pass on expenses by using emergency rooms for routine care and delaying treatments.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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