Health Inc.

Sebelius Challenges Insurers To Support Health Overhaul

As health care overhaul enters the legislative home stretch, the administration pounded health insurers again Wednesday.

This time, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius delivered the tough talk right to the faces of executives from the nation's health insurers at a meeting of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on March 10. i i

HHS Secretary Sebelius told insurers they need to make a choice about health overhaul. Jessica Marcy/Kaiser Health News hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Marcy/Kaiser Health News
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on March 10.

HHS Secretary Sebelius told insurers they need to make a choice about health overhaul.

Jessica Marcy/Kaiser Health News

She challenged insurers to drop their opposition to health overhaul and to instead help fix a broken system, marked by spiraling costs and a lack of consumer choice for health coverage.

While introducing Sebelius at the meeting in Washington, D.C., AHIP President and Chief Executive Karen Ignagni said on behalf of member companies, "We are very disturbed about what's happening with costs" and pledged insurers' commitment to greater transparency on what they charge.

Sebelius wasn't buying it. "How many years in a row can we have the same discussion over and over again?" Sebelius asked, questioning insurers perennial opposition to changes.

Last week, she met with executives from some of the nation's biggest insurers and prodded them to publicly explain the rationales for their premium increases. The administration has made insurance rate hikes—as high as 60 percent in some places—a central part of its argument for passing overhaul now.

Today, Sebelius chided insurers for spending millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying to kill health reform in the past, and took a swipe at the latest move by the industry to spend big on advertisements to block overhaul.

Insurers, Sebelius said, have to choose whether they will oppose an overhaul, an approach that could preserve profits in the short run, or instead work on making the health insurance system sustainable. "That's better for the American people," Sebelius said in prepared remarks. "I think it's better for the insurance industry. "

Sebelius took no questions from the audience. Afterward, AHIP's Ignagni said the group would accept the secretary's challenge and come up with some "specifics that can be added to bring costs under control."

Here's AHIP's latest TV ad, which casts the cost spotlight on doctors, hospitals and medicines.

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