The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

August 26, 2012

Insurers putting your money back in your pocket

Wouldn’t it make sense for health insurance companies to spend the majority of their costs on making sure that you get the best care at the lowest price? For too long, this hope has been too good to be true.

But starting this month, many West Virginians, and people across the country, have begun receiving checks from their insurance companies. This is because of a crucial new consumer protection, which I’m very proud to have authored in the health reform law.

It requires insurance companies to use at least 80 percent of the money consumers pay each month on premiums for actual medical care — instead of fancy buildings, excessive executive salaries and company profits. This is something insurance companies should be doing anyway, but unfortunately many of them have been abusing consumers’ hard-earned money.

Now insurance companies that spend too little on health care are required to give money back to consumers in the form of a rebate. And starting this month, many West Virginians who were overcharged for their health insurance will begin receiving rebates totaling about $2.7 million statewide. This year alone, more than 16,000 West Virginians with private insurance coverage should receive rebates, averaging $374 per family. Those can be in the form of reduced premiums, or even a check.

Some people have already seen these rewards. I recently heard from a woman from Preston County who said her insurance premiums decreased by 25 percent last year because of the health reform law.

And last December, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield cut premiums by 75 percent for 4,200 West Virginia small businesses, which cover 39,000 West Virginians. That saved these small businesses an average of $2,500 in health insurance premiums for the year. This was great news and those West Virginia businesses deserved to get some long overdue savings — as do many others who will see these benefits starting this month.

Fairness in health insurance pricing is an issue I’ve been looking into for some time. Over the past few years, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I led investigations and held multiple hearings to examine how much health insurance companies actually spend paying for health care services.

We learned that insurance companies were often abusing consumers’ premium dollars, sometimes spending as much as 35 percent of premium dollars on things like lavish marble executive offices and seven-figure salaries.

Over the last decade, company CEOs of just the top 10 health insurance companies raked in nearly $1 billion in total compensation, grossly profiting at a time when insurance companies were charging consumers more but spending less on actual health care. That’s just unfair. I worked hard to make sure Congress included a provision in the health reform law to stop these and other abuses that we uncovered. Health insurance companies must now treat consumers fairly.

Keep an eye out for a rebate if your insurance company overcharged you — it might be a check in the mail, a reimbursement into your account if you pay by debit or credit card, a reduction in future bills or a break from your employer. Every year that health insurance companies spend less than 80 percent of their money on premiums for care, consumers who were overcharged will get reimbursed by Aug. 1.

If you received a check and are not sure if it is legitimate, contact your insurance company. You can also contact the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner online or by calling their Consumer Services line toll-free at 1-888-TRY-WVIC (1-888-879-9842).

It’s about time that we stood up for consumers across the country — many who are still struggling to get by — and make sure that the money you spend on health insurance is used to help get the care you need at a fair price. This month, we’re seeing that happen.

— Jay Rockefeller is West Virginia’s senior U.S. senator.

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