Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina controls 53% of our state health insurance market. Together with United Health Group, our state's #2 insurer, these two companies control 73% of the market. With this kind of "competition," is it any wonder our insurance premiums have risen 75% in the last ten years, 5.3 times faster than our wages, squeezing families and small business alike? There is a severe lack of competition in North Carolina when it comes to health insurance, which mirrors the picture nationally, according to a new report released today by Health Care for America Now:
Some argue that health insurance industry competition across the U.S. is ample. In fact, research shows a startling and consistent absence of competition as the industry consolidates with more mergers and acquisitions. For example, according to a nationwide survey by the Government Accountability Office, the median statewide market share of the largest insurer selling coverage to small employer groups increased to 47 percent in 2008 from 33 percent in 2002. Americans pay for this consolidation in the form of higher health plan premiums, surging insurance company profits, and a growing number of uninsured people.
The Justice Department considers any market where one company holds more than 42% of the customers to be "highly concentrated." 94% of insurance markets in America are now "highly concentrated." In other words, the Justice Department is concerned that pretty much every insurance market in America is headed towards a monopoly.
We pay for those monopolies with skyrocketing premiums and copays. Meanwhile, insurers rake in the profits, to the tune of $13 billion last year.If you look a bit closer at our communities, the numbers are even more staggering. For example, in the Winston-Salem area, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina controls a whopping 77% of the market.
Most North Carolinians get their health care today under a near-monopoly. That means we can't choose a health care plan that meets our needs. We can't shop around for health plans that are affordable for our families. We simply don't have a choice - we are forced to pay what the insurers want for the coverage they decide to offer us.
Congress could change this overnight.
By passing a public health insurance option as part of health reform, something supported by President Obama, Congress could give you and me another choice for our health care. And that choice would be a real choice. The public health insurance option would be affordable. It would provide benefits that meet our needs. It would be charged with looking out for our interests, not its own profits. And most importantly, it would be a strong competitor to Blue Cross Blue Shield, forcing our state's top insurer to change their ways. Not surprisingly, Blue Cross Blue Shield is not only against a public health insurance plan, it is seriously considering engaging in a series of attack ads against it. The Washington Post featured a story this week about BCBS of NC and their plans to derail comprehensive health care reform. You can view the article here.
The insurance industry will try and scare us, telling us that a public health insurance option will take away our choice and force everyone into a "government run plan." That's simply not true. Nobody would be forced to give up their current health care plan. A public health insurance option would be a health care plan you could choose if you wanted to.
Of course, what these attacks fail to mention is right now we have no choice. One insurance company controls 53% of the market here, and they use their monopoly power to keep costs high. A public health insurance option would give us the choice we need to provide good health care for ourselves and our families.