Friday, November 09, 2007

Regence returns my call

I got a call back today from three executives at Regence Blue Cross. They were responding to my complaint about their Medicare Advantage supplement’s premium jumping 67 percent for next year.

A couple of days ago here on the Red Electric, I recounted my experiences with Regence MedAdvantage customer support . Because I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to track down one of three Regence executives I happened to be seated with at a recent Community Health Partnership honors banquet. I phoned and left a message for one to call back.

All three did, on a pre-arranged conference call. I was impressed.

We talked for about a half hour about the surprising jump in the premium from $45/mo. to $75/mo. You may recall that the customer service representative told me that premiums for the non-profit are based on claims from the previous year.

Last year was not a good year, insurance-wise.

My executive trio told me that there’s some discretion in setting premiums, and they readily admitted that the hike for next year is hard to swallow, but necessary.

I joined the program early this year when, at reaching 65, I became eligible for Medicare. If I had joined in 2005, the year the Medicare Advantage programs began, I would have a different perspective on next year's increase. Amanda, my customer service rep, told me that premiums could drop, but, because she had only been on the job a year and a half, she didn’t have a clue whether they ever had.

Fat chance, I thought.

I was wrong.

My conferees informed me that indeed the rates had dropped. My $45 premium was the low over four years. In 2005, the premium was $79, in 2006 it was $72. It turns out that 2006 was a very good year, as Frank Sinatra used to say, so management decided to pass the savings on in 2007, hence my $45 premium, which I took to be the norm.

So my advice to this august group was to level out the peaks and valleys of the premiums to avoid the appearance of a bait and switch. In the highly competitive health insurance industry, low rates are a selling point. That $45 snared me.

“We don't like to whipsaw our members," said Mike Becker, Regence vice president of public policy and community affairs. "Leveling out the premiums is exactly what we’ve been talking about,” chimed in Alison Nicholson, manager for individual sales.

Good, I replied.

I had a few other ideas, which I won’t bore you with and which you probably won’t be interested in, at least until you turn 65.

Suffice to say, I feel better about Regence Blue Cross — for now.

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