The National Anthem

THE NATIONAL ANTHEM…. Even those who’ve come to expect private health insurance companies to tighten the screws on their customers were taken aback this week when Anthem Blue Cross — the largest insurer in the nation’s largest state — told nearly a million customers that, next month, they’ll face premium increases up to 39%. That’s on top of last year’s increases. The LA Times noted, “Anthem’s actions offer the best argument yet for Congress to complete work on a comprehensive bill without delay.”

But the AP explains today that the outrage in California is not unique, and that consumers in at least four other states, all of whom buy coverage as individuals because they’re not covered by their employers, will see premiums increase by at least 15%. In Maine, some Anthem Blue Cross customers saw premiums go up 32% last year, and some will see a 23% increase again this year. Karen Tumulty noted that a family of four in Maine can now expect to pay over $22,000 a year for health insurance.

And yet, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe won’t even give health care reform an up or down vote.

This is only going to get worse nationwide.

Premiums are far more volatile for individual policies than for those bought by employers and other large groups, which have bargaining clout and a sizable pool of people among which to spread risk. As more people have lost jobs, many who are healthy have decided to go without health insurance or get a bare-bones, high-deductible policy, reducing the amount of premiums insurers receive.

Steep rate hikes in this sliver of the insurance market — about 13 million Americans, as of 2008 — have popped up sporadically for years. Experts see them becoming increasingly common.

“You’re going to see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent” for individual health policies in the near term, Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the health insurance and managed care committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, predicted Friday.

Now, regular readers at this point know full well what I’m thinking: pass … the … damn … bill.

But let’s go just a little further and consider the politics here. With these kinds of premium hikes, politicians should be tripping over each other to support reform. Maine’s senators should, in theory, be begging Democrats to help them pass a comprehensive package. The electorate should, if our discourse were sane, be demanding immediate passage of reform, and be threatening obstructionists who stand in the way of passing legislation.

And yet, here we are. The ridiculous and dysfunctional status quo is deteriorating further, and Republicans still want to block even a vote on health care reform, and panicky Dems are wondering if they should walk away from their already-approved fix.

The mind reels.