Friday, November 20, 2009

Stupid Carrier Tricks: Anthem Renewal Edition

One of my groups recently received their annual Anthem renewal. They've been with that carrier for several years, absorbing a number of rate increases because, based on demographics and health, it still beat the new business offers from the other carriers. This time, though, Anthem threw in a little twist, one which I inadvertently missed for a bit.

Generally, a renewal quote will include a recap of the current plan design and premium, and the new rates for that plan design. This is standard, and well-accepted. Where a particular plan design is no longer offered, the closest "new" design is substituted, and there's a notation to that effect.

Not this time.

The underlying medical plan didn't change (much), but instead of prescription plan "x" they subbed in plan "z," without noting the substitution. The renewal rate, even with the lesser benefit plan, was 29% higher than last year. Definitely time to shop again.

This was both easier and harder than last time 'round: harder because, as we've noted before, we need to submit completed applications to get realistic bids; easier because the demographics and health of the group had changed in a positive way.

After submitting the ubiquitous UHC applications to several carriers, it looked like we were stuck once again: none of the offers were really outstanding; UHC's was close, but added a $100 per person prescription deductible (in addition to the underlying plan's deductible). I really have no problem with that: rx costs comprise a disproportionate share of claims, and encouraging more consumer awareness of these costs is a good thing. Still, why switch carriers for essentially the same plan and rate?

Or so we thought.

In re-reviewing (no, that's not a typo) the renewal, the business owner and I finally noticed that the Anthem prescription benefit had changed, and not for the better. We asked Anthem if we could still get the same rx plan as we'd had and, if so, at what additional cost. Turns out, they would be happy to restore the full benefits, at an additional cost of about 15% of the premium (about $5000 per year). That earned a double-take, but the numbers didn't lie. No wonder they'd snuck in the rx change: if they'd sent the real renewal, it would have been a 35% hit.


Fortunately, I had put the UHC process on hold, but not cancelled it, so we were able to successfully transition there. A happy ending, but: a very bitter taste as a result of the underhanded way that Anthem presented its renewal.

Lesson: review those renewals very carefully, because what you see may not be what you thought you were supposed to get.
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