Sebelius Attacks Health Insurers, They Fight Back
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "pleaded with insurance companies on Wednesday to scrap their campaign against President Obama's health care bill and to work with the White House to pass it," The New York Times reports.
"Speaking at the annual policy conference of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, Ms. Sebelius said, 'It's not too late to work on this issue together, for insurance companies to come to the table and work with us.' In addition, Ms. Sebelius asked insurance companies to disclose all their requests for increases in premiums, along with data showing costs and other factors that would justify the higher rates. Karen M. Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, immediately accepted the suggestion" (Pear, 3/10).
The Wall Street Journal: Sebelius "asked the meeting participants: 'How many years in a row can we have the same discussion over and over again?' and 'How much pressure can we put on the remaining customers before the business model collapses on its own weight?'" She also "cautioned in stark terms that, if insurers opposed Democrats' health-care legislation, premiums increases would continue and more small businesses would drop health coverage for their employees" (Yoest, 3/10).
Politico: Sebelius' "reception was chilly, and the head of the insurance lobby made clear later that she's heard enough industry-bashing out of the White House. 'There has been a relentless attack on the men and women who work in our industry,' said Karen Ignagni, president of [AHIP]. 'But the politics as usual in Washington won't address the underlying affordability issues...'" Speaking to reporters after the speech, Ignagni "said the industry was committed to reform but that the current legislation won't cut costs as much as Democrats promise. 'Our concerns are very simple and straightforward: We have been concerned that the legislation will make the system more expensive, not more affordable,' Ignagni said" (Budoff Brown, 3/10).
ABC News: Sebelius "dialed back the rhetoric a bit in the hopes of getting insurers back to the health care negotiating table. ... According to the White House-provided excerpts [before the event], Sebelius was planning to say: 'You can choose to take the millions of dollars you have stored away for your next round of ads to kill meaningful reform, and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums.' Instead, Sebelius actually said: 'So there's another choice: I hope that you will take the assets that you have, the influence, the bully pulpit that you have and use it to start calling for comprehensive reform to pass. Start looking at giving Americans some relief with market strategies from those who are facing skyrocketing premiums'" (Davis and Loffman, 3/10).
Congress Daily: "Ignagni criticized the administration for vilifying the insurance industry. 'We think the vilification campaign is a diversion from the real problem,' she said. Instead, AHIP claims, the fault lies with rising healthcare costs that require higher premiums. AHIP began a national ad campaign Tuesday to combat the administration's claims, calling out physicians, hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical tests for increasing health costs" (Edney, 3/10).
CBS Political Hotsheet: Sebelius demanded insurers "give Americans a break on the cost of health care coverage. She wants them to take the millions of dollars they have set aside for ads against health care reform legislation 'and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums'" (Knoller, 3/10).
Meanwhile, "[a] bill that would require health plans to submit their rate increases to government regulators before they take effect is gaining momentum in Congress," the Chicago Tribune reports. "The Health Insurance Rate Authority Act of 2010 was introduced this week by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., to give [Sebelius] 'the authority to deny or modify premium and rate increases found to be unreasonable.' ... The act could become its own law or woven into health care reform bills President Barack Obama is hoping to see passed later this month" (Japsen, 3/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.