Consumer group, Walker administration spar over insurance rates

2013-10-24T00:00:00Z 2013-10-24T06:14:20Z Consumer group, Walker administration spar over insurance ratesBy MIKE TIGHE | La Crosse Tribune

A consumer advocacy group and Wisconsin insurance officials are sparring over whether Badger State rates in the federal insurance marketplace are higher than Minnesota’s.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin alleged Wednesday that health insurance rates for a single person in the state will be an average of 79 percent to 99 percent higher than Minnesota’s and that La Crosse rates will be 136 percent higher.

“These are very startling differences in premiums just across the border,” said Robert Kraig, Citizen Action’s executive director and co-author of the report.

The percentages do not include potential tax credits that the Affordable Care Act offers to reduce premiums substantially for low-income residents.

Kraig cited two main reasons for the disparity: Gov. Scott Walker’s rejection of $119 million in federal dollars to expand BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, which pushed about 92,000 low-income people onto the health exchange, and the state’s lack of oversight of insurance company rates.

The states have “similar geographies and similar underlying medical costs,” Kraig said.

Minnesota is running its own insurance exchange, while Wisconsin is among about 35 states that deferred to the federal marketplace or entered a partnership with the federal government.

The average Wisconsinite will pay $1,800 more annually for health care through the federal exchange, Kraig said.

Kraig insisted that higher Wisconsin premiums will hit middle-class residents hardest because Obamacare’s tax credits will lessen the impact on low-income people who buy their plans on the insurance exchange.

The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance questioned Citizen Action’s figures and disputed the allegations.

“I don’t understand where they are coming up with their numbers. I have no idea where they got the numbers, or Minnesota’s numbers,” said J.P. Wieske, legislative liaison and public information officer for the insurance commissioner’s office.

The group is “cherry picking what they want to cherry pick,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what their numbers are.

“We have a competitive market,” with 13 insurers in the exchange and more outside of it, Wieske said.

“We are an effective rate review process under the federal government. They approved our rate review process,” he said.

The two insurers approved for the marketplace in La Crosse County are the Health Tradition Health Plan of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and the Gundersen Health Plan.

Health Tradition administrator Steve Kunes said, “Health Tradition prices for the plan designs in the federal health insurance marketplace were developed by a nationally recognized actuarial company to meet the parameters set forth under state and federal regulations.”

Greg Skemp, sales and marketing director for the Gundersen Health Plan, said, “We’re not trying to get into the politics. There are so many variables that go into premiums.

“The biggest flaw in the (Citizen Action) report is that we don’t have oversight. We had to file rates with the state to be approved before they went to the federal” level, Skemp said.

“Rate review is alive and kicking in Wisconsin,” Skemp said.

The Capital Times in Madison contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. restofstory
    Report Abuse
    restofstory - October 24, 2013 7:01 pm
    Excellent post. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  2. Redwall
    Report Abuse
    Redwall - October 24, 2013 6:46 pm
    The Tribune calls Citizen Action for Wisconsin a "A consumer advocacy group". What a joke.

    A quick look at Citizen's website reveals board members are: South Central Federation of Labor (2 members), American Federation of Teachers (3), AFSME (2), UAW, SEIU Healthcare Workers of WI, WI Federation of Nurses, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, WEAC Council 10.

    Wait there's more, there website reads "Every year, Citizen Action generates hundreds of media stories, mobilizes thousands of citizens to participate in political advocacy..."

    This is nothing but a democratic political organization. This same article was in yesterdays paper under another Lee Enterprises author...either Lee's (Tribune) so-called journalists are clueless or they are peddling a political agenda and are journalists not.
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