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Insurance offerings decline in bay area

Frank Brocato, president and chief executive of Employers Health Coalition, which represents 145 employers in central and west-central Florida, said some of his members have been cutting back on insurance offerings in the past 18 months.

Part of it is involuntary: Consolidation among health insurers has pared back the number of carriers in the Tampa Bay area from nearly 20 about 10 years ago to four or five today. Even so, big employers with employees nationwide have generally contracted with several insurers to encourage price competition.

But faced with premium increases next year that range from 20 percent to as high as 60 percent, many employers are opting for a single carrier if they can get a better deal, Brocato said.

"The carrier will usually give a better arrangement to the employer if it has the entire employee population," he said. "It does away with the possibility of adverse selection, where the carrier might end up with more high-risk employees."

At TECO Energy, whose health plans cover 15,000 employees and dependents, the company has maintained two carriers in the Tampa Bay area, Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield of Florida. But that hasn't prevented rate increases of 18 percent for one HMO and 25 percent for another.

Pasco County Schools have been reduced to one carrier, United Healthcare, after having four insurers sharing its business five years ago. "We're not really satisfied with one carrier," said Bill Alexander, director of employee benefits, assistance and risk management for the school system.

"You lose leverage and competition," he said. "We tried to carve out pharmacy benefits this year to save some money, but United said they'd still charge us the same amount. That speaks of arrogance."