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Sebelius to insurance companies: don't blame reform for rate hikes

By Megg Mueller on October 28th, 2010

The latest salvo in the debate over health care reform was fired recently, this time from the Obama administration. The Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, sent a letter to America's Health Insurance Plans, the national association of health insurers, warning them that the administration is taking a zero-tolerance policy toward insurance companies who blame health care reforms for rising premiums.

Sebelius' warning includes a thinly veiled threat that any insurance companies that raise premiums, and blame the increased costs on the new health care laws, could be excluded from the health insurance exchanges that are due to launch in 2014.

The public slap on the wrist isn't going over too well with those who oppose health care reform or with health insurance companies. An article in the Wall Street Journal notes that HHS has the right to define what encompasses an unreasonable premium increase. However, the guidelines for what that actually means haven't been announced yet, which has caused insurers to worry that they'll be unable to justify any premium increases under the slippery definition.

Republicans are saying President Obama isn't taking responsibility for increases that were inevitable due to the new mandates, while Democrats led by the HHS, are saying insurance companies are using health care reform as a way to push through increases and lay blame elsewhere.

Like most conflicts, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Anyone who portends that health care mandates, such as requiring group plans to start covering adult children under 26, won't raise rates is not being realistic. No way can the health care system absorb the cost of covering these newly covered kids without causing costs to increase. But to blame premium increases solely on health care reform doesn't take into consideration our country's long-standing health issues, our aging population and the exorbitant cost of prescription medications.

Pointing fingers isn't going to solve the health care problem, but working together might.

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