AUGUSTA (AP) – A new rate increase filing by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has touched off a new round of politically tinged disputation over the state of Maine’s health care insurance system.

The Anthem filing, which was submitted to the Maine Bureau of Insurance on Friday, seeks an increase in premiums for an individual line of insurance known as HealthChoice. The request is for increase amounting to 20.5 percent, on average.

“Unfortunately, the individual health insurance market in Maine is extremely problematic,” Anthem’s director of government relations, Katie Fullam Harris, wrote to lawmakers last week as the filing was submitted.

“The market has deteriorated so significantly that Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has lost millions of dollars in this market in the last two years,” she wrote.

In a letter to state Insurance Superintendent Alessandro Iuppa, Anthem’s Erin Hoelfinger said the filing was made “with very mixed feelings.”

“In 2005, Anthem BCBS lost $3 million on this product line,” Hoelfinger wrote. “We project substantially larger losses this year with 2006 premium dollars falling short of the revenue necessary to cover costs, much less provide for the reasonable rate of return required for rates to be adequate.”

On Tuesday, Gov. John Baldacci expressed disappointment.

“This is an unacceptable burden to individuals in Maine who do not have access to group health insurance,” Baldacci, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, said in a statement. “I have asked the public advocate to reach out to the attorney general and the Bureau of Insurance and to report back to me on the advocate’s review of the rate increase proposal.”

Baldacci’s Republican challenger, state Sen. Chandler Woodcock of Farmington, said the Anthem filing demonstrates that “Maine’s health insurance market remains broken under Governor John Baldacci.”

Woodcock, in a prepared statement, added: “The lack of competition, coupled with Maine’s regulatory environment, has created this situation. Maine’s health insurance regulations limit choices and drive up costs in the individual insurance market.”

Meanwhile, the group known as Consumers for Affordable Health Care denounced Anthem’s rate request, which it said came on top of an average rate increase of 14 percent last year, as both “unconscionable” and “predictable.”

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