Last month an Ingham County judge blocked Blue Cross Blue Shield from instituting rate increases on insurance policies by up to 66% for some seniors with supplemental Medicare policies. This isn’t the first time that Blue Cross Blue Shield has gotten in trouble in the past few months, either.
In fact, earlier in November BCBS was accused of preventing other smaller insurance companiesfrom competing in the marketplace in Michigan, ultimately driving up costs for policy holders. Consequently, some health insurance plans sold through insurance companies Aetna and Humana were pulled from the market in Michigan. BCBS is so large in Michigan that it dominates the health insurance industry; at least that’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a lawsuit on October 18 against the company. In addition, a Hillsdale company and a Munising consumer also filed similar suits against BCBS. These suits came just months after jury verdict against the Blues in Oakland County Circuit Court that awarded $4.5 million to TheraMatrix, a Pontiac rehabilitation therapy firm for separate legal issues. Nevertheless, BCBS maintains that its size actually helps its customers and drives down prices, rather than raising insurance premiums for consumers.
However, the recent attempt at a 66% rate-hike suggests that BCBS is still utilizing its size to its advantage. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed suit in September against Blue Cross and Michigan’s Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. The Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation asked BCBS to restructure discounts given to some 8,000-9,000 policies — about 5% of some 200,000 seniors with Blue Cross Medigap policies. Attorney General Mike Cox argued that the Office violated state law by approving the rate increase without notifying his office so that he could arrange a public hearing allowed by state law. However, the Office maintains that the rate hike would prevent those seniors–mostly retired Ford and Chrysler salaried workers who receive a stipend to pay for health insurance from their former employers–from receiving the same benefits that low-income seniors receive.