Following reports that California’s Anthem Blue Cross would raise insurance premiums by a startling 39 percent, analysts mulled the impact it would have on consumers.
But at the Fox Business Channel, the hosts appeared primarily concerned that it could boost support for health care reform.
On Monday Brad Fluegel, Vice President of Blue Cross’s parent company Wellpoint, Inc., appeared on Fox with hosts Stu Varney and Charles Payne to discuss his subsidiary company’s recent moves.
Fluegel downplayed the company’s $2.7 billion profit in the final quarter of 2009 and insisted the premium jumps were in accordance with rising medical costs. He also lamented the “highly politicized debate” nationally on health care.
“But Brad this is like Jaws 2, just when you thought it was safe to get out of the health care debate, you brought everybody back into it,” Payne said, wondering why Blue Cross didn’t “wait for this to blow over and maybe a year from now try to hike rates.”
While the hosts asked Fluegel tough questions about the timing and necessity of the rate hike, none of them mentioned the prospective cost to consumers. They appeared more concerned that it could boost enthusiasm for insurance reform.
“You handed the politicians red meat at a time when health care is being discussed,” Varney said. “You gave it to them… You couldn’t see this coming? I mean really, you couldn’t see this coming?”
Varney warned Fluegel that he and other executives from his organization, if questioned by Congress, might not “get a fair hearing in front of [Rep] Henry Waxman” and “they’re going to browbeat you.”
Waxman called Blue Cross’s decision “deeply troubling” and demanded to “know what possible justification there could be for increases of this magnitude.” Congress has ordered a probe into the rate increases.
White House Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pointed out that Blue Cross’s rate increase is 15 times that of inflation, and the liberal health care advocacy group HCAN alleged in a report this month that such rate hikes are designed to boost the profits of insurers rather than pay medical expenses.
Think Progress recounts that Fluegel later shared a moment of laughter with the hosts: “At the end of the interview, the Fox hosts chuckled with the WellPoint VP. They apologized for being so harsh and warmly reminded Fluegel that their criticism of insurer profits was only meant to be ‘warm up’ for Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) investigation. ‘You did very good,’ cooed one of the cohosts.”
The following video is from the Fox Business Channel on Feb. 15, 2010.