Obama to propose limits on insurance rates
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will propose giving federal authorities the power to limit rate hikes by health insurance companies — part of a new health care overhaul plan he will unveil Monday in a last-ditch bid to salvage his signature issue.
The proposal would give the federal Health and Human Services Department — in conjunction with state authorities — the power to deny egregious premium increases, roll them back, or demand rebates for consumers, said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because details have not yet been officially released.
Recent premium hikes of as much as 39 percent sought by Anthem Blue Cross in California have given Obama a new argument for his sweeping health care remake, stalled in Congress since Democrats lost their 60th Senate seat in a special election last month in Massachusetts.
The proposal for tighter oversight of insurers, modeled on legislation proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will be part of a sweeping overhaul plan which the White House plans to post on its Web site at 10 a.m. Monday, ahead of a health care summit with congressional leaders of both parties on Thursday.
The broader plan, likely to be opposed by the GOP, is expected to require most Americans to carry health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies to help many afford the premiums. Hewing close to a stalled Senate bill, it would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. The expected price tag is around $1 trillion over 10 years.
The summit at Blair House, the White House guest residence, will be televised live on C-SPAN and perhaps on cable news networks. It represents a risky and unusual gamble by the administration that Obama can save his embattled overhaul through persuasion — on live TV.
It was forced on the administration by the Senate special election victory of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown in January. He captured the seat long held by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who died last year. Brown's victory reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate to 59 votes, one shy of the number needed to knock down Republican delaying tactics.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he would participate, but insisted Obama and congressional Democrats would be wrong to push the bills they wrote in the House and Senate.
"The fundamental point I want to make is the arrogance of all of this. You know, they are saying: 'Ignore the wishes of the American people. We know more about this than you do. And we're going to jam it down your throats no matter what.' That is why the public is so angry at this Congress and this administration over this issue," said McConnell, R-Ky.
Thursday's meeting takes place nearly a year after Obama launched his drive to remake health care — a Democratic agenda item for decades — at an earlier summit he infused with a bipartisan spirit. The president will point out that Republicans have supported individual elements of the Democratic bills.
Under the Obama plan, regulators would create a competitive marketplace for small businesses and people buying their own coverage. The plan would be paid for with a mix of Medicare cuts and tax increases. It would also strip out special Medicaid deals for certain states, while moving to close the Medicare prescription coverage gap and making newly available coverage for working families more affordable.
McConnell spoke on "Fox News Sunday."