Obama to propose limits on rate hikes

OBAMA TO PROPOSE LIMITS ON RATE HIKES…. One of the political challenges associated with health care reform is making the pitch to those who already have insurance and are largely satisfied with their coverage. The consumer protections are welcome, but seem abstract for many, especially those who don’t have pre-existing conditions.

But ample polling data suggests these same Americans are deeply concerned with rising premiums, fears that intensify in light of developments such as Anthem’s 39% hike in California.

With this in mind, President Obama is poised to add a new provision to the health care reform agenda. When the White House unveils its reform proposal in about two hours, it will include a new oversight measure on premium increases.

President Obama will propose on Monday giving the federal government new power to block excessive rate increases by health insurance companies, as he rolls out comprehensive legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system, White House officials said Sunday. […]

By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, a new element not included in either the House or Senate bills, Mr. Obama is seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California and moving to portray the Democrats’ health overhaul as a way to protect Americans from profiteering insurers.

Congressional Republicans have long denounced the Democrats’ legislation as a “government takeover” of health care. And while they are likely to resist any expansion of federal authority over existing state regulators, they will face a tough balancing act at the meeting with the president to avoid appearing as if they are willing to allow steep premium increases like those by Anthem.

To be sure, the reform bills already approved by Congress include measures on this point, but the White House proposal would go further — HHS, state regulators, and an independent commission would review rate increases annually. Hikes deemed “unjustified” could be blocked or amended, and in some cases, insurers could be ordered to issue rebates to customers.

Jonathan Cohn spoke to an administration official who emphasized that the oversight authority “would not pre-empt existing state regulations. The feds would step in only if states did not, or could not, stop high rate increases on their own.”

And while some parts of health care reform wouldn’t be implemented for a few years, this oversight would take effect this year if the legislation is signed into law.

Sounds to me like a good way to start a huge week on health care reform.