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Report: Health care premiums stay low

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GINA R. HEINE
December 22, 2010
— Janesville and Beloit remain among the metro areas in Wisconsin with the lowest health care premium costs, while the area's health insurance inflation in the last year followed the state average of 7 percent, according to a study released Tuesday.

Out of 12 metro areas, Janesville and Beloit ranked third lowest in single monthly premium costs at $678.34, according to the Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings 2011, authored by Robert Kraig of the Citizen Action of Wisconsin.


Walworth County's premium cost was slightly higher at $702.47.


The study ranks the state's major cities and regions on health insurance costs based on employee plans and health plan quality.


The fifth annual report shows a continued wide variation between higher- and lower-cost areas. That variation reaches 30 percent between the highest-cost metro area, La Crosse, and the lowest-cost area, Madison, for a difference of $2,114 for a single annual policy.


Janesville benefits from its proximity to Madison, Kraig said, because many health plans available in Madison are also available here.


Rock County ranks well within the state, but it's all relative, he said. Health insurance inflation in Rock County was 172 percent since 2000, he said, which is above the national average of 130 percent.


Walworth County inflation hit 180 percent in the last 10 years, he said.


Kraig hasn't looked specifically at health care capacity needs in Rock County, but he said he's leery of extra capacity being built. Two new hospitals are under construction in Rock County.


"I would be concerned about that based on the five years of the report because one of the reasons the health care market is broken is that building additional capacity that is not needed is not punished in the health care marketplace," he said.


He cited the Milwaukee area and northeastern Wisconsin as examples where building may have increased health insurance costs.


Plan quality

Dean Health Plan and MercyCare both received two out of four stars in health insurance plan quality. Only two other health plans—Anthem Blue Cross and Humana—received lower scores, while UnitedHealthCare also received two stars. Eleven health plans received either three or four stars.


Two stars are average, Kraig said, and some of the Madison plans are high quality.


The quality ratings are a measure of consumer satisfaction and data on quality based on claim reviews, he said.


When asked for a reaction to the study, Mercy Health System responded with a statement from Vice President Joe Nemeth:


"MercyCare Health Plans continually strives for cost and quality improvements, following the standards of the National Committee of Quality Assurance. As an 'excellent' accredited organization (the highest accredited status by NCQA), we see focusing on the quality of the care we provide as a key to lowering health insurance costs."



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