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California commissioner asks for time to review health insurance premium increases Posted: January 21st, 2011

By Maryalene LaPonsie

In what some argue is the first major test of new California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, health insurance companies are being asked to use a waiting period of at least 60 days before requesting future rate increases. Commissioner Jones sent letters asking for the time to four of the state's major insurers, following media reports of back-to-back premium hikes.

At the center of the controversy is Blue Shield of California. The insurer plans to hike rates an average of 18 percent in March 2011. The move follows increases in October 2010 and January 2011. For some consumers, the three increases meant a total premium hike of 59 percent.

Commissioner Jones' letter to Blue Shield, sent last week, asks Blue Shield of California to wait 60 days after the effective date of its most recent rate increase before requesting a new one. In requesting the increase scheduled for March, Blue Shield notified the Department of Insurance of its intent to raise rates less than a month after its October increase went into effect and before the January increase was implemented.

Under California law, the insurance commissioner has no authority to reject a rate increase but Jones can use additional time to make sure health insurance companies provide detailed actuarial information justifying premium increases, post information about the increases electronically, and provide consumers 30-to-60 days notice of increases.

In addition to Blue Shield, Aetna, Pacificare and Anthem Blue Cross received letters from Jones.