Insurers lost billions of premium dollars due to rate reviews

The healthcare reform law's rate review program boosted state regulators' oversight and scrutiny of insurer rate hikes, saving consumers $1.2 billion on health insurance premiums last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

HHS claims the reform law, which gave 46 states plus the District of Columbia $250 million in grants to enhance their rate review programs, has saved 6.8 million consumers from inflated premiums, the agency said in a report issued Thursday.  

"We are seeing that holding insurance companies accountable is leading to increased competition and saving billions of dollars for consumers across the country," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The average rate request in the individual market decreased by 12 percent, according to the report, saving consumers about $311 million. In the small group market, insurers' average rate increase request dropped by 19 percent to save consumers $866 million.

Although the rate review program requires insurers submit and justify any proposed increase of 10 percent or more, it stops short of allowing them to block such rate hikes if regulators find them excessive.

"This type of competition and transparency will continue in the Health Insurance Marketplace, or Exchanges, where Americans will be able to shop for and compare plans side-by-side to find the one that fits their needs and budget," Sebelius added.

Earlier this year, HHS said insurers have asked for and implemented lower premium increases since the rate review provision took effect in 2011. For example, 74 percent of insurers' requests in 2009 were for double-digit rate hikes while just 35 percent of rate hikes in 2012 were higher than 10 percent, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the HHS statement and report (.pdf)

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