Thursday, May 06, 2010

One Toke Over The Line

I love a good fight. I especially love a good fight when one of the participants is a political leader we elected to do the job, so I was really pleased by the news that President Obama isn't quite finished with WellPoint.

From the Washington Post:

In a broader effort to combat "unjustified" premium increases, the administration also asked states to ensure their regulators have the authority to review rate hikes before they take effect. ...

"In light of this recent finding, I urge that, to the extent you have authority to do so, you re-examine any WellPoint rate increases in your state to determine whether any mistaken assumptions similar to those made in California were made in your state," Sebelius said in a letter to governors and state insurance commissioners. "Even small errors can mean unaffordable premiums for policyholders."

The "recent findings", of course, are those of the California Insurance Commission with respect to the huge premium hikes announced by Anthem Blue Cross (owned by WellPoint). The health insurer had justified increases of up to 39% on holders of individual policies based on cost projections which were "inadvertently" based on erroneous assumptions. When the commission's findings were announced, Anthem Blue Cross quickly backed off, but indicated that it would do some recalculations and announce the new hikes sometime this month.

Now, I suppose in the long run this fight is a foolish one. Health insurers will still be able to raise premiums, and at least some state insurance commissions don't have the authority to investigate such increases, but it still is nice to see the Obama administration slap a villain around rather than try to accommodate it.

Of course, also in the long run, such a fight would have been unnecessary if our health care wasn't dependent on the profitability of health insurers, i.e., if our health care was handled by a single payer system. But it isn't. That will be the next fight, one that I think we'll have to lead.

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