Health insurance companies under pressure

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beginning this month, health insurance companies will face more pressure to keep premiums reasonable.

Previously, Missouri and Montana were the only states in the country where insurance rates weren't examined or reported, but a provision of the federal health care reform law changes that. Insurers must now report upcoming rate increases to customers as well as federal Department of Health and Human Services officials. They must also state the reason for the price increase.

HHS will also review any rate increase above 10 percent and evaluate whether it's justified. These are steps in the right direction to help control insurance costs, but the federal health care reform law, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, doesn't give HHS the authority to control rates. In a growing number of states, regulators now have the authority to deny or reduce rate hikes found to be excessive. But Missouri isn't one of those.

Across the country, premiums have more than doubled in the last decade, with smaller companies particularly hard hit in recent years, according to research by the not-for-profit, nonpartisan Missouri Foundation for Health.

"Small businesses have little leverage to negotiate for lower rates or more comprehensive benefits, often electing skimpier coverage to counter rising costs," said Thomas McAuliff, policy analyst at the Missouri Foundation for Health. He said the increases are alarming and that the federal law will help control costs somewhat by providing a level of oversight that's been missing in Missouri.

The increased scrutiny on rates may put pressure on insurers to do what they can to keep premiums stable.

* Dino's building is condemned, and the owner intends to rebuild: The city of Cape Girardeau has issued a condemnation notice for the former Dino's Pizza building at 1034 Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

The restaurant has been closed since building was severely damaged in a fire last month. Firefighters believed the cause to be electrical.

Owner Kostas "Gus" Demopoulos said the building will be demolished, but as of right now, he intends to rebuild.

According to the condemnation notice, he will have 30 days after Sept. 25 to either repair or demolish building.

Demopoulos said he has hired an architect to draw up plans for a new restaurant building.

He said there are many steps in the rebuilding process.

He and his family had also lived in a home attached to the restaurant, but they were forced to move following the fire.

n LeBounce adds indoor play center: Le Bounce Indoor Inflatable Play Centre has added an arcade. LeBounce, in the City Center at 2502 Tanner Drive in Cape Girardeau, opened earlier this year, with more than 8,000 square feet of inflatable play elements, a parents' lounge and private party rooms. The new arcade features IceBall skee-ball machines, Ms. Pac-Man, a photo booth, The Fast and the Furious interactive racing games and more.

LeBounce features an inflatable triple slide more than 20 feet tall, a 50-foot-long inflatable obstacle course and multiple inflatable jumping areas, as well as a family dining area. The Parents Lounge is equipped with flat screen TVs and free wireless Internet. Learn more at lebouncecape.com.

Southeast Missourian business editor Melissa Miller may be contacted at 388-3646 or mmiller@semissourian.com.

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