AHCJ members get tips on covering rate hikes

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Bryant Furlow of The New Mexico Independent reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico was raising some premiums by about 21 percent. It sounds like a lot, but Furlow wanted to compare it to other states for context. So, he e-mailed the AHCJ electronic discussion list and asked members across the country what their local Blue Cross / Blue Shield increases looked like, and how state insurance regulators had been responding.

That same day, Jim Hall replied with thoughts and a link to his paper’s story about similar hikes in Virginia, and Diane Cochran of the Billings Gazette reported that Montana rates had jumped between 9 and 19 percent. News and links to Massachusetts’ own conflict with Blue Cross came from Kay Lazar at The Boston Globe and Felice Freyer of The Providence Journal offered another set of links from Rhode Island along with some veteran advice:

When you’re comparing among states, keep in mind that there’s a difference between the individual and group markets, with rates more volatile in the individual market. I think the huge California increase was in the individual market only. In RI, individual rates (called Direct Pay here) are tightly regulated and BC takes a loss on those products.

Within a few hours of his request, then, Furlow got data and advice that applied to his own story and hundreds of other health journalists gained context and story ideas they could use at their own publications.

Freyer has some additional cautions for anyone considering a comparison of plans and rates across state lines:

Be sure to compare individual-market rate increases with individual-market rate increases and group with group. Don’t compare individual rates in one state with group rates in another. If you are trying to find out whether the increases in one state are extraordinary compared with other states, you may be able to get at that only in a general sense. It’s hard to compare states because state laws, demographics and economic conditions vary.

The electronic discussion list is one of many benefits reserved for AHCJ members. For more information and a searchable archive, check our guide to the electronic discussion list. If you’d rather call it a Listserv, you’re in charge of getting the rights to the trademark.

What about rate hikes in your area?

Have you written about recent Blue Cross / Blue Shield increase? Share your stories – and any advice or tips you have  – in the comments section below.

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