Insurer’s Plan To Jack Up Premiums Puts New Steam Into Health Reform On Senate Floor

Just weeks ago the Senate majority leader declared there was “no rush” to complete comprehensive healthcare reform. But a California insurer’s intent to raise rates as much as 39 percent appears to have lit a new fire under Sen. Harry Reid, as he took to the Senate floor to beseech his colleagues to “finish the job.”

Anthem Blue Cross, a California subsidiary of WellPoint, has come under fire for jacking up premiums by as much as 39 percent this year on some individual health policies. This comes as a new study indicates WellPoint was one of the five largest health insurance companies that posted $12.2 billion in profits last year, 56 percent more than in 2008.

“A lot of companies are hurting in this economy. But this California health care company isn’t one of them. Last year, its parent company raked in eight times what it made in the same quarter just the year before,” Reid (D-Nev.) says. “And it’s not the first time we’ve seen this happen. Just two months ago, another exceedingly profitable company raised its rates with the full knowledge that it would mean 650,000 people would no longer be able to afford coverage. That’s the equivalent of every man, woman and child who lives in Las Vegas, plus 100,000 more people.”

Reid’s outrage seems to represent new energy for the issue of healthcare reform. His enthusiasm appeared to wane last month, after Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown won an upset special election that gave the Senate GOP a critical 41st vote that provides Republicans new power to block Democratic legislation.

The House and Senate have each approved differing versions of healthcare reform. The two chambers, however, still must reconcile their separate bills into a single package to approve and send to President Obama to sign into law. Brown’s filibuster ability apparently now stands in the way of that final step.

In his floor speech last week, Reid notes that one Republican response to healthcare reform has been to “get out of the way and allow the market to work,” but following that course is what produces results like Anthem Blue Cross’ huge increases on its policyholders.

“That’s what happens when we allow the health insurance market to work. That’s what happens when we sit back and wait for insurance-company executives to act out of the goodness of their hearts – instead of admitting they are acting in the interest of their wallets. That’s why we need health reform like the bills already passed by the House and the Senate that will rein in insurance company abuses and make coverage more affordable for millions,” Reid says. “Health care costs take up a larger slice of our economy than ever before. And it’s not slowing down: In less than a decade, it’s going to be one out of every five dollars we spend. In less than a decade, Americans will spend half of their family income on health premiums.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Reid adds. “These Californians don’t have to be priced out of a healthy life. We don’t have to let greedy health insurance executives drag down our future.”

In a tacit acknowledgement of the enhanced power for Republicans that Brown’s election brings, Reid sought GOP assistance in passing healthcare reform. Senate Republicans, however, voted as a united bloc against healthcare reform during the critical Christmas Eve vote which approved the Senate version of health reform.

“I once again encourage Republicans to work with us in good faith to fix our broken system. I encourage them to listen to the American people – two-thirds of whom said just this week they want Congress to finish the job,” Reid says. “And I encourage every Senator to condemn this insurance company’s greed. If they are not willing to do so, perhaps they would be willing to call the Californians who can no longer afford coverage and explain why corporate profits are more important than their health.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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