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Saturday, October 16, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Insurer Regence Denies It Manipulated System

AP

OLYMPIA - Washington's largest health-insurance carrier yesterday denied allegations by state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn that it may have violated the law by pushing for rate increases in four successive filings this year.

In a news release, Senn said inconsistencies and errors in Regence BlueShield's filings "unnecessarily complicated the rate reviews, confused the public, and suggested that the series of rate filings was intended to manipulate the regulatory process."

A hearing to examine the issue will be scheduled as soon as her staff and Regence's attorneys can meet and agree on a schedule, Senn said.

Rich Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Regence BlueShield, denied manipulating the process and said he welcomed a hearing.

Nelson said Senn's news release attacking Regence does not help fix the bigger problem, which is the struggling health-insurance market that led to the request for a large rate increase.

"And it certainly doesn't encourage us - or any other carrier, for that matter - to participate in the individual marketplace," he added.

Regence asked four times for a 28.1 percent increase in rates paid by 55,000 people who buy health insurance individually, not through employers.

Senn eventually agreed to a 25.8 percent increase.

But she said the health insurer wasted the state's time and money by failing to address discrepancies her staff pointed out in the four filings. The filings lacked documentation required by state law, were contradictory and included "suspect" data and failed to explain inconsistencies in previous data, she said.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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