Democrats, Republicans Seek Reasons Behind Hikes in Premium Costs
On Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) sent a letter to five major health insurance companies requesting more transparency in how they determine their premiums, along with a warning not to use the federal health reform law as justification for such increases, Reuters reports.
The letter was sent to executives at:
- Health Care Services;
- UnitedHealth Group; and
- WellPoint (Krauskopf, Reuters, 9/20).
Baucus and Rockefeller wrote that recent premium increases, some of which are in the double digits, are "unnecessary" and "unjustified," particularly after reports that the companies also are generating large profits.
The lawmakers wrote, "Rather than look to throw consumers a life line, early reports indicate that some carriers are looking to raise rates even further in 2011, while blaming the [health reform law] for these cost increases," adding, "This is irresponsible and unacceptable but is not, unfortunately, surprising" (Lillis , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/20).
In an accompanying statement, Rockefeller said, "I want health insurance companies to be transparent and honest when increasing premiums -- and health care reform is simply not to blame" (Reuters, 9/20). The letter echoes a similar message from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius earlier this month to America's Health Insurance Plans, warning that the Obama administration will have "zero tolerance" for "misinformation and unjustified rate increases" (Lillis , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/20).
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesperson for AHIP, said, "Health plans will continue to do everything they can to implement the new law in a way that minimizes disruption and keeps coverage as affordable as possible for individuals, families and employers," adding, "Political attacks won't do anything to make coverage more affordable for working families and small businesses that are struggling in a slow economy" (Reuters, 9/20).
Senate Republicans Seek Hearing on Premium Increases
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have requested a hearing to examine the reasons behind the recent spate of insurance premium increases, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee's ranking member, and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), in a recent letter to Baucus, cited recent media reports about how "some health plans will be raising premiums between 1% and 9% in the next plan year as a direct result of changes in the health reform law," adding, "Others, including Secretary Sebelius, have predicted much lower increases."
They wrote, "A public hearing would provide an opportunity to sort through these different estimates and review the changes affecting premiums" (Lillis , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/20).
Grassley and Roberts said they specifically wanted to hear from Jay Angoff, director of the HHS Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, and CMS Chief Actuary Richard Foster (Ethridge, CQ Today, 9/20). They wrote, "Mr. Angoff should be made available to provide information about trends in the current health insurance marketplace, while Mr. Foster should discuss some of the underlying issues and cost drivers behind health care inflation" (Lillis , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.