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Sebelius Invites Health Insurer CEOs to Premium Talks

Source: Wall St. Journal

Posted on 25 Feb 2010

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Select CEOs of the largest publicly traded health insurers in the country are being invited to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in March. Topic of discussion: why the insurance premiums charged by the CEOs' companies are on the rise.

On the invitation list are CEOs from WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc., Aetna Inc., and Cigna Corp., customer-owned Health Care Service Corp. and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

"Across the country, health insurance premium increases are impacting American families and business owners, and experts indicate that premiums will continue to rise," says Sebelius.

"In recent weeks, we have learned of premium increases of nearly 40% in one state and we know significant premium increases are not isolated incidents. I am concerned about these increases, which make it harder for people to access the health care they need, and eager to hear the justification for these increases and steps we can take to create a more stable system that keeps premium costs down for all Americans," she said.

Sebelius says the meeting may offer an opportunity "to discuss how health insurance reform can bring down health-care costs and fix our broken health insurance system.” She told the insurance CEOs she welcomes their ideas about how reform can ensure that all Americans have secure and affordable health coverage.

President Obama proposes health care reform that would, along with other changes, establish a federal health insurance rate authority to help determine whether proposed rate increases are reasonable. The industry opposes the idea, saying states already regulate insurers and it could lead to health-plan insolvencies across the country. The industry says premiums are rising because of soaring medical costs and because younger, healthier people are dropping coverage.

"The issue of how medical costs are driving up premiums is an important one, so we look forward to responding to the secretary’s invitation shortly," says a representative for UnitedHealth.

Cigna said it looks forward to "discussing the drivers of health-care premiums with her so that all Americans can have access to affordable, quality health care."

Aetna and Wellpoint reps say they haven’t yet received the secretary’s invitation but will review it upon receipt.