Obama Versus Insurers

Let the do-or-die week for health care reform begin

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President Obama has proposed a bold idea for health care reform: giving the federal government the power to regulate insurance premium increases. The proposal, a reaction to recent premium hikes by several providers, will be part of Obama's health care package, to be revealed today at 10 a.m. As Obama and Congress look forward to Thursday's bipartisan health care summit, this proposal is sure to shape discussion of how to reach an agreement on reform. In terms of policy as well as politics, is the regulation any good?

  • A Big Compromise to Please All  This is meant to forge common ground for both parties and both houses of Congress, write The New York Times' Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn. "By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, a new element not included in either the House or Senate bills, Mr. Obama is seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California and moving to portray the Democrats’ health overhaul as a way to protect Americans from profiteering insurers."
  • Running Against the Insurers  Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes, "The proposal seems designed to play off voter anger toward recent double-digit increases by Anthem Blue Cross of California and adds a populist tinge to Obama's proposal, of the president standing up to big insurance companies. The idea wasn’t included in either the House or Senate health reform bills that passed last year."
  • Good Policy, Better Politics  The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn calls it "not Earth-shattering" but a good step to "define a compromise that can win majorities in the House and Senate." He writes, "It's an effort to strengthen a regulatory backstop, in case all the other efforts to cut costs and restrain premium growth don't work. And this sort of move will inevitably raise questions about implementation and economic efficiency--legitimate questions worth exploring in the coming days. But, as I wrote, these regulations are already in place in many states. And they seem to do some real good."
  • White House Eager To Show 'Solutions'  The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says the proposal is designed as "an attempt to frame the day (and week) around the notion that the White House is offering solutions while Republicans are simply roadblocking progress for political gain." He adds of populist anger around health care reform, "Both Republicans and Democrats want -- and need -- to get out in front of that anger for fear that if they don't they'll find themselves on the business end of it."
  • How It Would Work  Politico's Mike Allen with the nitty-gritty: The Health and Human Services Secretary will "establish a Health Insurance Rate Authority composed of 7 members, including consumer representatives, an insurance industry representative, a physician, and experts in health economics, actuarial science, and related fields, which will make recommendations to the Secretary on premium rate review and approvals."
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