ALBANY -- Consumers are getting closer to seeing more information about proposed health insurance hikes before they go into effect.
UnitedHealth Group acquiesced Tuesday to demands from the state Department of Financial Services that its rate increase request be made available to the public. Under a 2010 law, many health insurers must apply for rate increases and have them pre-approved by the department, led by Superintendent Ben Lawsky.
Lawsky notified insurance companies in September of his intent to make public their proposals. Ten companies and industry group New York Health Plan Association objected.
UnitedHealth's decision to drop its opposition makes them "the industry leader when it comes to transparency. The rest of the industry should now follow UnitedHealth's lead and end their policy of secrecy once and for all," Lawsky said in a statement.
UnitedHealth, which also operates plans under the Oxford name, said it was glad to reach an agreement, said Daryl Richard, a company spokesman.
"We believe consumers need to understand the elements that are driving increased health care costs -- and as a result, their premiums -- and our mutually agreed-upon decision will provide consumers with access to more detailed health information," Richard said.
The law requires that rate applications contain information about actuarial assumptions and payouts, but also administrative costs and profits. Leslie Moran, a spokeswoman for the New York Health Plan Association, suggested disclosure could show it's the costs of drugs, doctors and hospitals -- not administration or profit -- that prompts the increases.
Still, Moran said, the association was standing pat with its objection. The complaint is less on the merits of the policy than implementing it after proposals had been submitted -- most insurers seek hike taking effect in January, so applications were filed as early as August.
"Part of our objection to the department is it's one thing to talk about it and move forward prospectively, and another to do this retrospectively," she said, adding some companies may have included sensitive, perhaps proprietary, information in their applications.
The parent company of BlueCross BlueShield issued a statement noting "virtually all" requested rate increases for next year have been approved and the "great majority" of its applications are posted online.
Lawsky's tactic comes from the playbook employed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he was attorney general -- and Lawsky was one of his top aides: avoiding protracted legal battles in favor of enacting change.
Cuomo used similar methods to force wind companies and financial firms to adopt codes of conduct.
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