Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama to unveil new health care reform proposal

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will propose on Monday giving the federal government new power to block excessive rate increases by health insurance companies, The New York Times reported.

This new piece of legislation aims to bridge differences between the bills adopted by the House and Senate late last year, the newspaper reported late Sunday, citing unnamed White House officials.

It would also frame his debate with Republicans over health policy at a televised "summit" meeting on Thursday, the Times added.

By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, Obama was seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California, the report said.

The issue is a new element that has not been included in either the House or Senate bills.

The president?s bill would grant the federal health and human services secretary new authority to review and block premium increases by private insurers, potentially superseding state insurance regulators, the paper noted.

It would create a new Health Insurance Rate Authority, made up of health industry experts.

It would issue an annual report setting the parameters for reasonable rate increases based on conditions in the market, according to the report.

Officials said they envisioned the provision taking effect immediately after the health care bill was signed into law, The Times said.

The legislation would call on the secretary of health and human services to work with state regulators to develop an annual review of rate increases.

If increases were deemed unjustified the secretary, or the state involved, could block them, order the insurer to change them, or even issue a rebate to beneficiaries, the paper reported.

The new rate board would comprise seven members, including consumer representatives, an insurance industry representative, a physician, and other experts such health economists and actuaries, said The Times.

The board?s annual report would offer guidance to the public and states on whether rate increases should be approved, the paper pointed out.

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