Obama Reform Plan Targets Insurer Rate Increases

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , February 22, 2010

President Obama used his weekly radio address Saturday to encourage Democratic and Republican leaders to attend Thursday's meeting in Washington to discuss a healthcare reform package. But, at the same time, he signaled that he will be taking a hard line against health insurance companies that implement steep hikes in their premiums.

The targets include Anthem Blue Cross, which has since agreed to delay its proposed rate hike two months until the state of California reviews the request. In addition, he cited insurers in Kansas, Michigan, and Maine for asking to raise rates from 10% to 30%.

"The bottom line is that the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America," Obama said in his address. "And as bad as things are today, they'll only get worse if we fail to act . . . We'll see exploding premiums and out of pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets.

"We'll see more and more small businesses scale back benefits, drop coverage, or close down because they can't keep up with rising rates. And in time, we'll see these skyrocketing healthcare costs become the single largest driver of our federal deficits," he added. "That's what the future is on track to look like. But it's not what the future has to look like."

Likely to attend the meeting to discuss a healthcare reform is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who told Fox News on Sunday that he "in all likelihood” will be there." However, he will ask the president to "shelve this bill and start over."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that House Republicans would "welcome a good faith effort to start over on healthcare reform."

"If we were talking about really starting over with a clean piece of paper—scrapping bills that passed the House and the Senate and also renouncing...reconciliation, Republicans are ready to work," he said. "But what we can't help but feel like here is that the Democrats spell summit 's-e-t-u-p.' And all this is going to be is some media event used as a preamble to shove through Obamacare 2.0, and we're not going to have any of it."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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