Wellmark, one of Iowa’s largest insurance companies, is asking for the state’s permission to raise its premiums next year. Raising premiums by up to 21 percent, as Wellmark is proposing, during what will undoubtedly be the third year of a deadly pandemic is cruel. Thousands have already died, and many thousands more have been affected by the economic shocks the pandemic has wrought. In the public comments on the proposal, dozens of people — from small business owners to workers with multiple part-time jobs, to retirees trying to provide health insurance for the grandchildren they care for — testified that they cannot afford the increase.
It’s not as though Wellmark needs the money. The company increased its reserves by $174 million in 2020. They did this by charging premiums on the one hand and refusing to pay medical bills on the other. As of two weeks ago, they weren’t paying for many COVID tests. On top of that, Wellmark and other private insurers are bilking the federal government. At the public hearing on the proposed premium hikes, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen pointed out that “customers” ultimately won’t be on the hook for much of the increase. That’s true — Obamacare subsidies will cover much of the cost for the ACA plans. Whether as taxpayers or customers, Wellmark gets rich off our sickness.
Which brings me to Doug Ommen. At the Aug. 28 public hearing, Mr.Ommen suggested that his job as Insurance Commissioner is to get insurance companies as close to 20 percent net revenue as possible. The law that empowers him, though, says his job is to protect consumers. Mr. Ommen has the power to stop these premium increases. He needs to side with Iowans and their health needs, not insurance company profits.