White House Targets Insurers for Health Insurance Premiums

By | September 22, 2009

The White House kept insurance companies squarely in its sights Tuesday in the push for healthcare reform by releasing research showing that health insurance premiums have risen far faster than inflation in every U.S. state.

U.S. states have experienced premium growth of 90 percent to nearly 150 percent in the past decade, while wages have risen 38 percent and inflation by 28 percent, the report by the White House’s National Economic Council said.

“In every state, premiums have increased faster than wages and in every state, family budgets are consumed by an increasing share of healthcare premiums,” the report said.

Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to speak on Tuesday to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, in remarks highlighting the report.

President Barack Obama has pushed for a sweeping health care overhaul that he says would rein in costs, create competition for insurers and expand coverage to many of the 46 million uninsured people living in the United States. The overhaul of the $2.5 trillion industry is his top domestic policy priority.

Brian Deese of the National Economic Council said Obama’s reform plan would include tighter regulation of insurance companies.

“As of 2008 … fewer than half of states required a full review when insurers wanted to increase premiums at the state level,” Deese told reporters on a conference call, “… even if it’s all going mostly to profits.”

Obama’s health care reform effort has been besieged by critics and slowed by battles in Congress, where elements of the insurance and health care industries have lobbied against parts of it and Republicans and some conservatives in Obama’s Democratic Party have expressed reservations about the expensive plan’s cost and timing, given the recession.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee begins consideration of its long-delayed version of a healthcare reform bill Tuesday, with costs and affordability topping the list of concerns for Democrats who control the panel.

Committee members have filed 564 potential amendments to the healthcare plan offered by Democratic Chairman Max Baucus.

In excerpts from his prepared remarks, Biden noted that premiums in Alaska increased 145 percent in 10 years while wages grew 35 percent, and in Florida premiums rose 121 percent while wages increased 43 percent. He said Michigan had the smallest gap, 37 percent.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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