- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned insurance executives Wednesday that failing to support President Obama’s comprehensive plan to reform U.S. health care likely will result in their demise.

“We are in a situation where the market is unsustainable,” Mrs. Sebelius said at the American Health Insurance Plans national policy conference in Washington. “You can choose to continue your opposition to reform. If you do and reform goes down in defeat, we know what will happen.”

She said more Americans and businesses no longer will be able to afford or offer insurance if rates continue to increase.

“The much-better long-term model is a stable market instead of taxing [customers] with higher and higher premiums,” Mrs. Sebelius told the group, which represents roughly 1,300 companies that provide insurance to more than 200 million customers.

Mrs. Sebelius asked the executives specifically to support the reform legislation now in Congress and show Americans why the cost of premiums have soared in recent years.

“Americans want to know,” she said.

Mr. Obama in his effort to reform the health care system repeatedly has targeted the insurance industry for raising premium costs.

He has increased the intensity over the past couple of weeks, including a speech Monday in Philadelphia in which he said, “How much higher do premiums have to rise before we do something about it?”

Mrs. Sebelius originally declined to speak at the conference, then changed her mind earlier this week. She met Thursday at the White House with five chief executive officers from the insurance industry.

On the same day Mr. Obama spoke in Philadelphia, she sent a letter to insurance executives that in part stated: “At our meeting, you and your colleagues discussed the importance of addressing and controlling the underlying cost of health care… . To that end, I am reiterating the request to post on your Web sites the justification for any individual or small group rate increases you have implemented or proposed in 2010… . Posting this information will give Americans the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about rate increases that affect them.”

Karen Ingani, AHIP’s president and chief executive officer, preceded Mrs. Sebelius’ speech by pledging the group’s support.

“We are fully committed to [cost] containment and not finger pointing,” said Miss Ingani, acknowledging the Obama administration has focused on insurance costs over the past few days.

She also vowed more transparency from the industry and said she was “disturbed” by the increasing cost of health care.

“We do not have all of the problems solved,” Miss Ingani said. “But we are committed to insurance reform and comprehensive cost containment.”

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