Marin family sues Anthem Blue Cross

March 2, 2010 8:01:07 PM PST
A Marin County family that spends more on their health insurance than they do on their home's mortgage is among the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Anthem Blue Cross.

Mary and Gordon Feller say that during the past year, Anthem raised their premium by 80 percent. The Fellers now pay $1,658 a month for health insurance. Add in the staggering rates paid by their 26-year-old daughter, a cancer survivor, and they are well past their $1,700 monthly mortgage.

"We're seeing a system that bankrupts Americans," Mary Feller said during an Oakland news conference Tuesday.

The suit, filed Monday in Ventura County, accuses California's largest for-profit health insurer of offering policyholders the chance to switch to a more expensive plan with higher deductibles. When policyholders refused, they learned about the huge premium hike they would have to pay after the deadline to switch had passed. Plaintiffs say that is illegal.

The Santa Monica-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog brought the suit, saying Anthem violated a 1993 state law that requires health insurance companies to offer comparable coverage or minimal premium hikes if they cancel a policy.

"Today's lawsuit is just the beginning of what is going to have to be a much more profound change in the state of California when it comes to healthcare," said Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog's founder.

Anthem has come under fire for raising the rates of 800,000 policyholders, mostly individuals who are not covered under group plans, some by as much as 39 percent.

A spokesperson for Anthem said she had not seen the suit and declined to comment, but at a recent hearing in Sacramento, Anthem officials said their rates have gone up in part because their policyholders are older and sicker and it costs more to cover them.

"That's my message to all Californians -- you're next; it could happen to any family," Feller said.