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Some Anthem customers in Virginia are seeing the same kind of price hikes that produced criticism of the company in California
BY JIM HALL
Beginning next week, Nancy Bailey will pay $416 a month for health insurance, more than a third higher than what she's paying now.
Bailey is among thousands of Virginians who are experiencing double-digit increases in health premiums from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The price increases are similar to the ones that President Obama and others criticized when WellPoint, Anthem's parent company, imposed them this month in California.
WellPoint says its price increases are necessary because many of its healthier customers have dropped coverage or chosen cheaper plans during the economic downturn.
"That's a portrait of the future if we don't do something now," Obama said, referring to the passage of health care reform legislation.
Bailey, 59, is a clinical psychologist in Fredericksburg and a resident of Stafford County.
Since she is in private practice, she does not have coverage through an employer or group plan. Instead, she buys a policy directly from Anthem.
"It's the biggest drawback to being self-employed," she said.
Bailey bought an individual KeyCare plan but switched to an individual KeyCare Health Savings Account plan in 2007. Anthem says its health savings account plan has one of its lowest premiums.
Bailey said that Anthem has raised her premiums each year, though this year was the largest yet.
"Obviously, the thing that's different if you have individual policies is you have no negotiating power," she said.
Don Chiappinelli, a licensed clinical social worker in Fredericksburg, has the same KeyCare HSA plan that Bailey has. Like Bailey, Chiappinelli is self-employed and buys coverage directly from Anthem. His premium will increase by 38 percent on March 1.
Anthem is the largest health insurer in Virginia with 3 million customers. The majority of its members purchase coverage through their employers or the government.
But the company also markets 12 plans directly to individuals. About 13 million Americans purchase their health coverage this way.
An Anthem spokesman declined to say how many Virginians, like Bailey and Chiappinelli, purchase individual policies from the company.
However, Anthem's filings with the State Corporation Commission list more than 80,000 individual policyholders.
The spokesman also declined to say what the average premium increase has been for these customers.
However, last fall the SCC granted Anthem rate increases for seven of its individual plans.
Don Chiappinelli, a 57-year-old resident of Stafford County, has purchased the individual KeyCare HSA insurance plan from Anthem since 2006. During that time, his monthly premiums have gone up 84 percent. His new premium takes effect March 1. 2006--$129 2007--$137 2008--$142 2009--$173 2010--$238