In the final push to get health care reform passed, the Obama administration did its best to cast the health insurance industry as the villain. And in the wake of the law’s enactment, not much has changed.
Early this morning, the press staff at the Department of Health and Human Services sent out a notice to reporters that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was asking governors and state insurance commissioners across the country to take a closer look at any premium increases proposed by the insurer Wellpoint. Why? You may remember a few months ago that Wellpoint’s affiliate Anthem Blue Cross had proposed a 39% increase for some of its California individual market customers. That increase has since been withdrawn but, in the meantime, the California Department of Insurance said that the proposal was based on unreasonable assumptions about how fast medical costs were rising. Ms. Sebelius thinks Wellpoint may have made similar “mistaken” assumptions in other cases, and wants the states to be aggressive in opposing those increases.
In a statement, Wellpoint said that the miscalculation of the California rate hike was unique to that area and that company officials believe they are in compliance with laws and regulations in other states.
This latest battle comes shortly after Ms. Sebelius very publicly condemned Wellpoint for reportedly engaging in a practice called rescission, in which insurers drop subscribers’ coverage. In the case of Wellpoint, the company was accused of targeting plan members diagnosed with breast cancer and denying them coverage, an accusation the insurer has denied. Wellpoint then announced it would end the practice of rescission starting May 1, months ahead of when the new health reform law requires it.
So, is HHS standing up for consumers who have traditionally had little power against insurance companies? Or is Wellpoint being unfairly targeted so the administration can score political points? Let us know what you think. In the meantime, the war of words continues.
— Mary Ellen Schneider (on Twitter @MaryEllenNY)