Durbin: Insurance Company Premiums--and Profits--Soar at Families' Expense

[CHICAGO, IL] – Illinoisans are facing up to a 60 percent increase in health insurance premiums this year at the same time that insurance companies are benefiting from some of the highest profits in their history, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said today a news conference to highlight the need for healthcare reform.

“Families are facing skyrocketing costs,” Durbin said. “Emergency rooms are overflowing. Health centers are struggling to meet the increasing demand. Yet insurance companies continue to raise premiums for hardworking families and, consequently, their profit margins. ”

Over the past decade, Americans have seen health insurance premiums increase 131 percent, while wages have increased just 38 percent. In the time since the recession began, an estimated 4,000,000 additional Americans have lost their health insurance. On average, nearly 11,000 workers each day lose their coverage. Health care spending now represents 17.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product—a growth of 1.1 percent from 2008. This represents the biggest one-year expansion of health care’s share of the economy since the federal government began keeping records in 1960.

Recent economic data show that profits for the ten largest insurance companies increased 250 percent between 2000 and 2009, ten times faster than inflation. Last year, the five largest health insurance companies—WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana—took in combined profits of $12.2 billion, up 56 percent over 2008.

“The only thing rising faster than insurance company premiums is insurance company profits,” Durbin said.

In Illinois, insurance companies are increasing their premiums at unbelievable rates—up to 60 percent. For people in the individual market—more than 500,000 Illinoisans—base rates will go up from 8.5 percent to more than 60 percent this year. Factors like health status, gender, age, place of residence and length of a policy could all raise premiums even further.

Insurance companies claim the premium increases are necessary given the rise in health care costs. However, some of the premium increases requested by insurance companies are 5 to 10 times larger than the growth rate in national health expenditures.

“We have the opportunity to change the current system that allows health insurance to profit while patients suffer. Comprehensive healthcare reform will hold insurance companies accountable to patients,” Durbin said.

“While there is much we don’t know about what will be included in the final healthcare reform bill, here’s what we do know: unprecedented and unexplained hikes in premiums will be a thing of the past,” Durbin said. “The bill will end insurance company abuses that prevent people from getting the healthcare they need. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions or place annual limits on benefits, rationing care when patients need it most.”

“The bill will extend the protection of health insurance to over 30 million Americans, including people who are self-employed or work for a small business, people who have a pre-existing condition and people who change jobs or lose their jobs. It’s what Americans deserve and we’re too close to let this opportunity pass us by,” Durbin said.