- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri consumer group announced Wednesday that it has sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the latest effort to obtain information used to justify the rates consumers will pay for insurance on the federally run online marketplace.

The Consumer Council of Missouri filed the complaint in federal court in St. Louis on Tuesday, one day after the health care advocacy group Citizen Action Wisconsin filed a state records request seeking insurance rate information. Ten national consumer organizations and 56 state consumer organizations petitioned HHS in April to make more rate information public.

HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn’t immediately respond to an email to its press office seeking comment.

The Consumer Council of Missouri’s lawsuit said that the federal health insurance law requires the agency to make the rate information public so consumers have the chance to challenge the costs they pay for health insurance. But the suit, which cites the Freedom of Information Act, alleges that HHS has failed to provide records the consumer group requested last month. The consumer group is seeking information about the health insurers planning to offer policies next year, the rates the insurers plan to charge and the justifications for those rates.

Cynthia Cox, a senior policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Missouri doesn’t review rates itself and relies on the federal government to do so. Eight insurers are planning to offer Missouri policies on the exchange next year, but a quick search of a website used by insurers revealed just one of the plans, Cox said.

The lawsuit notes that the open enrollment period for next year’s insurance plans begins Nov. 15 and asked for the rate information to be provided quickly.

More than 30 states already have released their 2015 insurance exchange rates. But Missouri, along with Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and Alabama, don’t release rate filing information until the sign-up period begins, the Consumer Council of Missouri said.

“The Consumer Council is offended that because state law is nonexistent, Missourians are disadvantaged in the implementation of this federal law,” said Joan Bray, executive director of the Consumers Council of Missouri in a teleconference with reporters.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin said that the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance released partial data last week showing the rate increase averages for existing plans on the health exchange. But the group said in a news release that it wanted more information, including details about plans being offered by new insurance companies entering the online marketplace.

“The public can only work to hold insurers accountable if they can view the rate filings,” said Dena Mendelsohn, a health policy analyst at Consumers Union, a national consumer rights organization, in a written statement.

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