A birthday present from my health insurance company

It seems like every year around my birthday, my health insurance company, Blue Cross of California, has to send me a "gift" -- a thick letter announcing it's upping the premium on my individual health plan.

Last year, I switched to a higher-deductible plan and a month later, I got a letter announcing it was upping the premium on that one too! It's not my laugh lines that make me feel older, it's my health plan. What makes me angrier is that my husband, who is too scared of the doctor to ever visit, hasn't had his premium raised since he got his own individual plan three years ago. Why must I get penalized for taking care of myself and getting a regular health checkup and pelvic exam every year, while my hospital-phobe husband gets away with his hazardous behavior? Then I read the New York Times story last fall about how it wasn't just me and my husband in this situation.

My birthday was last week and sure enough, my healthcare provider (now called Anthem Blue Cross since it was bought by health insurance giant WellPoint last year) sent me another gift -- a premium increase of 8%. And it wasn't just me this time. As of March 1, Anthem Blue Cross, California's largest for-profit health insurer, will raise premiums for four-fifths of its individual policyholders.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, many policyholders will see increases of more than 30%. I guess I should consider myself lucky, as a relatively healthy 30-Something, to get only a single-digit increase. (My 33-year-old husband, of course, got no increase.) The official reason for the hike? "The increasing need for medical services, the use of new, expensive prescription drugs and advanced technologies." Yeah, right. Am I the only person in health-conscious California trying to eat better, exercise more and take generic prescription drugs?

I never liked Anthem Blue Cross (ABC) all that much, but I never thought I'd hate them as I do now. In every screw-you letter they send me come such banalities like, "We know that lowering health care costs is important to you." No, it's obviously not that important to them. I never get any suggestions from them about what changes they want me to make to lower my health care costs so I don't have to pay more of them. All I get is the birthday letter.

What gave me some joy today was reading that ABC had to fork over money and restore healthcare plans to sick patients it tried to dump. As part of a deal with California regulators, the company agreed to pay $1 million in fines and offer new coverage -- no questions asked -- to 2,330 people it dropped after they submitted bills for expensive medical care. ABC will also have to reimburse those patients for medical costs they paid after their policies were terminated, estimated at $14 million. That's a far smaller fine than ABC paid to another California regulator for dropping 1,770 other members with HMO policies because their bills were too high.

Even better news is that the deal doesn't rule out lawsuits against ABC and two other major health insurers in California, Blue Shield of California and Health Net. All three are still facing individual and class-action lawsuits alleging that they gamed insurance laws to dump sick people and avoid picking up their medical tab.

I feel glee that someone is sticking it to the Insurance Man. But I mostly feel sadness that healthcare companies make you feel unwanted just because you age into a new decade, you're a woman, or you seek treatment to fight a major illness you didn't deserve to get. So there's no wallet-related advice on this post -- just a bitchy rant, one that I think is similar to what many of you feel about your own health insurer. Let's just hope that President Obama hurries up and finds a replacement for Tom Daschle so we can do something, anything, about this.
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