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Report: Little Health Insurance Competition Means High Premiums

May 21, 2009

Charleston WV – West Virginia's private health insurance market is dominated by a few large companies and an absence of competition, according to a new report from Healthcare For America Now. The report uses figures from an American Medical Association study, which says two firms wrote 54 percent of the state’s health plans last year, while consolidation has resulted in higher premiums and a growing number of uninsured people.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action, says the information confirms why premiums are increasing. West Virginia's health insurance rates have increased by 75 percent in seven years, much faster than wages, he says.

"We have only two companies that have over half of the state’s health insurance. There is less competition, which results in higher costs for both businesses and consumers."

Comparatively, West Virginia is one of the more-competitive, says Zucket, as in four other states, just two companies control more than 90 percent of the market. The government should offer a public insurance plan option to increase competition and keep prices down, he adds.

"We need an alternative for people who really can’t afford these increasingly higher premiums."

Insurance companies say West Virginia’s health care market does not draw a lot of competition because it is comparatively small. Nationally, they argue health insurance, including premium rates, is highly regulated, so the government bares responsibility for the cost of policies.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV