By Tom Murphy, AP Business Writer
Skyrocketing premiums have stunned some consumers who buy their own health insurance policies. People in several corners of the country are facing increases of 20% or more from some insurers.
Congress has asked the largest health insurer, WellPoint Inc., to testify about rate hikes of up to 39% for its Anthem Blue Cross plans in California, and President Obama wants federal oversight of rate increases. Insurers say rising medical costs are to blame for the price hikes.
There are steps consumers can take to shrink their payments while all this haggling takes place. Here are things to consider:
Q: What's an abnormal rate increase?
A: That depends on your age or how expensive your plan is. But generally, rate increases above 20% or 25% would fit the definition, said Colleen King, an independent insurance agent in Northridge, Calif.
Q: What's the first thing to do if you see a new premium that makes your hair stand up?
A: Find out when it goes into effect if your insurer doesn't spell that out. Some provide a couple months notice depending on the state.
Then ask your insurer what can be done. You may be able to raise your deductible to lower the premium. Many insurers will offer alternative plans to keep your business. But keep in mind a higher deductible means higher out of pocket costs when you use the plan.
Q: Should I look outside my insurer?
A: Definitely. Call an independent insurance agent for help or look at Web sites like www.eHealthInsurance.com to get a sense for prices. Many agents also have Web sites.
Independent agents can be helpful if you have pre-existing conditions that will affect your rates or an insurer's decision to accept you. For instance, an agent might know which insurers are more lenient on their underwriting for people with back problems.