WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama ratcheted up his attacks against insurance companies in a last-ditch attempt to get a reluctant public and skittish Democrats behind his health overhaul legislation.
Obama contended that insurers have calculated that they’ll make more money by denying coverage to some and jacking up rates on others.
“And they will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it,” Obama said in excerpts of a speech he will deliver later Monday in Philadelphia. “So how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it?”
Obama’s pitch in Philadelphia, along with a stop in St. Louis Wednesday, comes as the president begins an all-out effort to pass his health care proposals. The next two weeks will prove decisive, with the White House pushing for House action by March 18, when Obama leaves for an Asia trip.
Obama has long made insurers a target in his drive for revamping the health care system. But administration officials have turned up the heat in recent weeks, seizing on planned rate increases in California and elsewhere, as well as comments from an insurer broker.
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, recently released a brief showing that lack of market competition makes it beneficial for insurers to drop customers or ignore new business and raise rates on remaining customers instead. Goldman’s conclusions were based on a conference call with an industry expert at a major insurance broker.
Obama cited the broker’s comments that insurance companies sometimes see it as more profitable to drop or deny coverage to some and raise prices on others.
Insurers have blamed rising rates on the growing price tag of prescription drugs, hospital stays and other medical costs.
Obama is trying to persuade the public to back his plan to remake the nation’s health care system, while also urging uneasy lawmakers to cast a “final vote” for the massive legislation in an election year.
Though his plan has received only modest public support, Obama has implored lawmakers to show political courage and not let a historic opportunity slip away.
Democratic leaders are narrowing in on a strategy that calls for House Democrats to go along with a health care bill the Senate passed in December. Obama would sign it into law, but senators would promise to make changes on issues that have concerned House Democrats. Because Senate Democrats lost the 60-seat majority needed to stop GOP filibusters with the Massachusetts Senate race, the changes would have to be made under rules that require only simple majority votes.
That strategy would put lawmakers on track to meet Obama’s goal of the House passing a health care bill by March 18, when he leaves on a trip to Indonesia and Australia. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would sign a bill “shortly thereafter.”
Full Democratic support is far from certain. Some party moderates are uneasy about the cost of the $1 trillion bill and its language on abortion, and some House Democrats are suspicious of whether their Senate colleagues would follow through on promises to work out the differences in the bills.
The Democratic plan includes greater consumer protections and a ban on discriminating against customers with pre-existing conditions. Small businesses also would receive a tax credit this year. The White House hopes the immediate changes created by the bill would give Democratic candidates a strong platform on which to campaign in the fall.
Though Obama has included some GOP proposals in his plan, Republicans have called for the existing bills to be scratched and for the process to start anew. Party leaders insist they’re on the side of a public that doesn’t want the government-controlled health care they maintain the president’s plan would create.
Days after meeting with representatives from the nation’s leading insurers, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was to send executives a letter Monday reiterating her request that companies publicly justify proposed rate hikes that have infuriated customers.
In the letter obtained by The Associated Press, Sebelius asks the executives to post their justifications online, including detailed descriptions of costs and the number of consumers affected by the increases.
Date: March 8, 2010
Source: Associated Press