Low demand gives insurers better margins

May 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM
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NEW YORK, May 14 (UPI) -- U.S. insurance companies are reporting profits linked to consumers cutting back on medical treatments.

With insurance companies reporting first-quarter earnings on average 30 percent higher than expectations, insurance giant Cigna recently referred to a "low level" of claims, while UnitedHealth Group reported a decline in insured hospital stays, The New York Times reported Saturday.

In some cases, consumers are seeking less treatment as employers switch to coverage that includes higher deductibles for their workers.

"They are being really conscious of how they spend their money," Grand Rapids, Mich., general practitioner Dr. James Applegate told the Times.

Some patients, he said, were skipping annual blood work. Others were passing on routine tests, like colonoscopies or mammograms, which could result in expensive treatments and life-threatening conditions down the road, the Times said.

Delays in seeking treatment, which adds to insurance company's margins, has not stopped some firms from asking for hefty increases in premiums. Regence BlueCross BlueShield in Oregon is asking the state for permission to raise rates 22 percent for individual policies.

Dr. Lonnny Reisman, chief medical officer for Aetna told the Times that profits -- and requests for higher premiums -- would help insurers weather a possible increase in demand for medical treatments down the road.

"I think there's a real concern about a bounce-back, a rebound, in utilization," he said.

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