Last week, 80,000 Iowans got some terrible news – their health insurance premiums are going up an average of 18% next year. Since the announcement from Wellmark, which controls about 70% of the private insurance market in Iowa, we have heard from hundreds of Iowans who are deeply concerned about the affordability, transparency and quality of their health insurance. Rates are going up well beyond the 18% increase, while at the same time coverage is going down.

We are here today to find out what is driving these outrageous rate increases and what we can do to ensure each and every rate increase is truly justified.

From small businesses to non-profits to individuals, the effects of these yearly rate increases are putting a heavy burden on too many Iowa families.

We’ve received hundreds of emails and calls from Iowans throughout the state. There are several common themes to their stories –

• The rising cost of their health insurance is not sustainable.

• At the same time their rates are rising, their coverage is shrinking.

• We’ve heard about the increasing barriers they are facing in obtaining coverage and how the impact of preexisting conditions is stifling Middle class families, our economy and our state’s small businesses.

Most Iowans do not understand what a “medical loss ratio” means because they have no virtually no information on how it is calculated and if it being regulated effectively.

Iowans want to know if their premium increases are paying for Wellmark’s new corporate headquarters and employee raises and bonuses. They want to know why reserves were not used to offset their rate increases. They want to know how Wellmark’s reserve dollars are invested and if Iowans are paying the price for its investment losses.

My goal is to ensure that Wellmark’s insurance rate increases are justified and that Iowa small businesses or families are not being taken advantage of. I believe Iowans deserve to know why their health insurance rates are increasing, what they can do to lower their rate, and what we can do to ensure they receive reasonable notification of rate increases.

To paraphrase what Congressman Waxman said yesterday at a Congressional Hearing on premium increases, “Iowans cannot afford to go down this road forever. It is breaking our Middle Class. It will bankrupt our state and country.”

I want to thank our Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss and Wellmark executives Laura Jackson, Group VicePresident for Provider Relations & Health Management and Pat Ryan, chief actuary, for being here today to answer Iowans questions about their rate increases and assist the legislature in bringing more accountability and transparency to health insurance regulation.