Blue Cross Raises Costs for Individual Health Plans

As more Michigan residents flock to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to buy their own health coverage, the state’s largest insurer is replacing several types of individual policies with plans that will cost up to $600 a year more — and come with higher co-payments and other out-of-pocket costs.

The new insurance plans — with monthly premiums ranging from $51 to $292 per a person — are on sale now and take effect Wednesday.

On March 27, Blue Cross stopped enrolling new consumers in several older plans, including Value Blue, a catastrophic coverage policy, and its no-deductible Individual Care Blue.

The new rates will apply to newly unemployed residents seeking to replace workplace coverage by buying their own insurance from Blue Cross. The new plans also differ from those for which Blue Cross is seeking state permission to raise rates and would not be affected if that request is approved.

With the rollout of these new plans, Blue Cross has introduced a lengthy application that includes optional health questions and ties insurance agents’ commissions to the medical condition of new enrollees.

The changes are so drastic that some insurance agents say Blue Cross is deliberately making its money-losing individual policies less attractive to slow sales. Blue Cross contends that it’s simply keeping up with market trends, as well as the rates and plan offerings of its private-sector competitors.

As the state’s insurer of last resort — a responsibility tied to its tax-exempt status — Blue Cross must cover all Michigan residents, regardless of their medical history. But that arrangement, Blue Cross officials say, leaves them with the state’s sickest and costliest members. Last year, Blue Cross lost $133.2 million on individual insurance policies, dragging its bottom line to a $144.9 million loss for 2008.

Read the full article from The Detroit News here.

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