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Sebelius, Congress Demand Answers on Health Insurance Rate Hikes

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 4, 2010

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius meets today at the White House with leaders of health plans that she has sharply criticized for proposing extremely high rate increases on individual markets.

Meanwhile, a congressional oversight and investigations panel announced it has broadened an inquiry into insurance practices involving four of the nation's largest for-profit health insurance companies.

Sebelius has said she wants to discuss the rate hikes with health plan leaders of Aetna Inc., CIGNA Healthcare Inc., Health Care Service Corp., the UnitedHealth Group Inc., and WellPoint Inc. Officials of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners also have been invited. Sebelius had criticized proposed individual coverage rate hikes from 23% to 56% as "shocking."

Sebelius had planned to meet with insurers yesterday, but it was postponed because of a scheduling conflict, HHS officials said. The meeting comes as the Obama administration continues to put pressure on insurers to justify rate proposals.

Meanwhile, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-CA, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said the committee has asked top officials of WellPoint, Aetna, UnitedHealth Group, and Humana about denied claims related to pre-existing conditions and company policies related to coverage of maternity care in the individual market.

Waxman and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-MI, chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations, asked the hospital executives to testify about the issues at a March 23 hearing.

Waxman and Stupak's letter asked the companies to provide e-mails and other documents related to their coverage in individual markets, as well as their listed and proposed rate hikes, and training materials.

The health plan leaders called to testify are: Angela F. Braly of WellPoint; Stephen Hemsley of United Health; Michael B. McCallister of Humana; and Ronald Williams of Aetna.<

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