FILE - CT health insurance 11-7-2013

A man leaves Access Health CT, Connecticut's health insurance exchange's first insurance store, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, in New Britain, Conn. 

(The Center Square) – The Connecticut Insurance Department is deciding whether it will approve rate increases for individuals and small groups on the state’s health insurance exchange.

Insurance companies are asking for rate increases from 8.6% for individual policies to 12.9% for group plans, citing a growing need for services because COVID-19 and increased requests for behavior health treatments have risen.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo was critical of the scale of the requested increases.

“These requested rate hikes are also coming during a time of historic profits for insurers where executive compensation and bonuses have exploded,” Lembo said in a statement. “This is further evidence of what almost everyone knows to be true: the current health care options available to individuals, small businesses and nonprofits are not intended to keep people healthy. They are intended only to make a few corporations, and their executives, extraordinary amounts of money.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle issued a joint statement asking the Department of Insurance to take a close look at the requests.

“Annual health insurance price increases can wreak havoc on family budgets, but to say that the current proposed increases come at a difficult time is truly an understatement,” Tong and Dolittle said in a joint statement. “Many consumers are struggling with the impacts of COVID-19: they have lost jobs; they can't pay their rent and unemployment support is tapering. Small employers are likewise facing intense economic hardships as they struggle to regain a footing in the market.”

Consumers who attended a public hearing on the proposed rate increases said they cannot continue to pay the high annual premiums.

Dan Pflug, a certified public accountant from Easton, said his annual premium for his family was $33,813 with a deductible of $2,500. Diane Keefe of Norwalk said her premiums were $43,000 for her family of four and the deductible was $5,000.

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said the increases do not coincide with increased salaries or increased profits for small businesses.

“The last year and a half has been a nightmare for the average citizen in our state and for most businesses,” Anwar said. “We are not in the position to be able to survive an increase of this capacity.”

The Insurance Commission has several options, including approving a partial increase or rejecting the request altogether. The decision is expected to be published by the end of the month.