N.C. families stunned by rising Blue Cross rates

As the national debate over health insurance reform rages on, many consumers in North Carolina are reeling from hefty rate increases.

President Barack Obama plans a televised summit today to revive his overhaul efforts. One provision would limit how much insurance companies can raise rates, following an outcry over increases by a big Blue Cross plan in California.

In this state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, a nonprofit insurer that controls most of the state's market for individual policies, is allowed to raise those rates an average of about 12 percent this year.

But the company recently increased monthly premiums 50 percent or more for some members, forcing them to drop coverage or switch to cheaper plans with fewer benefits and higher deductibles. Blue Cross blames the increases on surging costs and demand for expensive medical care and services. It sets specific rates based on age, medical history and other factors.

David Swanson, a Durham investment adviser, received new rates for his teenagers. The monthly premium for his 15-year-old son increased about 11 percent to $185.15. The rate for his 17-year-old daughter jumped 54 percent, to $255.57.

When he called Blue Cross to complain, Swanson was told that premiums for young women used to increase when they turned 18. The insurer lowered the age to cover rising costs.

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