Hundreds of thousands of Californians won at least a temporary reprieve from escalating health premiums Thursday when three of the state's largest insurers agreed to delay rate hikes.
But the company that launched the latest round of headlines about escalating rates, Blue Shield, stood by its decision to go forward with a March 1 increase that will raise rates on nearly 200,000 individual policyholders, some by as much as 59 percent.
Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross and PacifiCare said they would delay previously announced rate increases for at least 60 days.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who requested the delays just days after being sworn in Jan. 3, said he wanted time to review the companies' rate filings.
"I continue to be disappointed by Blue Shield's response," Jones said Thursday.
Blue Shield subscribers have been particularly miffed by the latest increase – the third since last fall. But the company said the rate increases were necessary to keep up with rising hospital bills and prescription costs. The increases affect those who buy insurance on their own rather than receiving it through an employer.
As Congress continues to argue over the future of the country's health care system – and a possible curtailment, if not repeal, of the federal health care law – supporters of the law have seized on rising rates as a reason it should remain in place.
"Here in California, we've been suffering double-digit insurance rate hikes for years," said Jones, who again lamented his lack of authority to reject "excessive" rate hikes.
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