Furor, demand for answers, spreads over rising healthcare premiums

Anthem Blue Cross isn't the only one drawing criticism for its rate increases. With U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius demanding public justification for premium hikes of 39 percent from that company, a chorus is growing as consumers of both Health Net and Aetna voice stress and frustration over their plan hikes.

Health Net increased Britton Jackson's coverage premiums by 49 percent last year, and the 40-year-old San Franciscan felt isolated and didn't know where to turn. This year, however, rate hikes are causing more people to speak out. "I think people are paying so much more attention to it now and realizing they're not alone," she said.

California legislators and regulators have announced probes and scheduled a hearing Feb. 23 to examine not only Anthem's proposed increases, but also those imposed by other health insurance companies.

Also feeling the pinch are small businesses. Carmel-Monterey Travel in Monterey switched last year from Anthem to Aetna to save money, only to be hit with news of a 40 percent rate hike for its eight-member group.

In addition to consumer rate hikes, California physical, occupational and speech therapists saw their Anthem reimbursement rates fall 30 to 50 percent Feb. 1.

To learn more:
- read this San Francisco Chronicle story