To Make a Point About Skyrocketing Health Insurance Premiums, President Obama Shares the Story of Ohio Woman

Mar 4, 2010 3:27pm

As we reported earlier,in his pop-in on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's meeting with top health insurance company executives, the president read a letter from a Ohio woman to make a point.

At the briefing this afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs read the December 2009 letter, from Natoma Canfield of Medina, Ohio.

ABC News spoke with Canfield this afternoon.

Born and raised in Medina, she told us she’s a cleaning woman and her insurance company was Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Ohio – the company that just announced sizable premium hikes all over the country despite its parent company having made almost $5 billion in profits in 2009.

“I just could not afford it,” Canfield told us. “I went into debt trying to keep coverage when it was $500 a month, and I couldn’t do it anymore at $700 a month.”

Messages for Kim Ashley, the communications director of Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Ohio, were not immediately returned.*

Here’s the letter she wrote the president, per Gibbs:

"Dear President Obama:

“I am 50 years old.  I was diagnosed with carcinoma 16 years ago.  And following my divorce 12 years ago, I became self-employed. 

“After my COBRA benefits ran out, I was able to find costly but affordable health insurance.  As a responsible individual, I have struggled to maintain my individual coverage and have increased my deductible and out-of-pocket limits in an attempt to control my cost and keep my health insurance. 

“Last year, 2009, my insurance premium was increased over 25 percent, even though I increased my deductible and out-of-pocket to the highest limits available. I paid out over $6,075.24 in premiums, $2,415.26 for medical care, $225 in co-pays, and $1,500 for prescriptions.  I never reached my deductible of $2,500, so the insurance company only paid out a total of $935.32 to my providers. 

“I must repeat, in 2009 my insurance company received $6,075.24 in premiums, and paid out only $935.32.

“Incredibly, I have been notified that my premium for the next  year — for next year, 2010, has been increased over 40 percent, to  $8,496.24.  This is the same insurance company I've been with for 11 cancer-free years. I need your health reform bill to help me.  I simply can no longer afford to pay for my health-care costs. 

Thanks to this incredible premium increase demanded by my insurance company, January will be my last month of insurance. I live in the house my mother and father built in 1958, and I am so afraid of the possibility I might lose this family heirloom as a result of being forced to drop my health-care insurance."

You can read a copy of the letter HERE. 

Asked by ABC News how health care reform legislation would help Canfield, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "it would provide her greater choice on the individual market.  She would be able to join an exchange where millions like her — their purchasing power would be pooled to compete in different plans that provided her the best options."

He added that "once the bill is implemented, she's not going to have to worry about an insurance company discriminating against her on the basis of a preexisting condition."

Canfield told ABC News she was “just so amazed that a regular person from Medina, that the president read my letter and is mentioning my plight. When I wrote my letter I just wanted it to be counted in the numbers..of people who wanted the president to go for health reform. I never thought he’d read my letter.”

- Jpt

* UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon, Anthem Ohio issued a statement: "We understand and strongly share our members’ concerns over the rising cost of health care services and the corresponding adverse impact on insurance premiums.  Unfortunately, the individual market premiums are merely the symptoms of a larger underlying problem in Ohio's individual market – rising health care costs.  The increasing demand for medical services, the use of new prescription drugs, and demand for advanced technologies are driving up the cost of health care at an unprecedented rate.  Anthem is investing in many initiatives to reduce the cost of care, promoting wellness and preventive care for our members and communities, as well as, working with providers to encourage high-quality, evidence-based care, which costs less over time. In addition, our health plans offer members significant discounts through access to a large network of health care providers across the country.  These efforts, however, cannot completely offset all the increases linked to the cost of care. The pricing structure of our individual products is a reflection of the medical risks and costs associated with this market.  As the cost of care increases, premiums rise accordingly.

"Anthem regularly evaluates its rate structure to make sure that the cost of claims incurred is offset by the premiums collected, and that we anticipate the cost of future, expected claims. At times, based on the cost of covering benefits, rates may be either raised or lowered. To assist members who are looking to explore alternative plan options, Anthem offers a team of licensed Health Plan Advisors.  These advisors are dedicated to assisting members in finding solutions to meet the balance between their coverage needs and their budget, especially in these challenging economic times. 

"It is important to note that premiums are expensive because the underlying health care costs are expensive. Anthem offers a variety of health benefit plans, and we are dedicated to working with our members to find health coverage plans that are the most appropriate, and affordable for their needs. We are more than happy to take a look at a member’s health benefit plan and review possible options to more closely meet the member’s current needs.  This may include moving to a lower priced plan.

"We are determined to support quality care for our members, we share their concerns about the upward rise in premiums and must adjust our rates as needed to cover the costs and risks associated with providing quality health care for all of our individual members."

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