US President Barack Obama on Monday launched a new political assault on price-hiking insurance companies, seeking to build support for his last-ditch bid to pass a historic health reform bill.
Obama headed to Philadelphia to crank up his personal advocacy effort for the reforms, which are facing fateful tests in Congress, after a year of political bickering on an issue crucial to the outcome of his presidency.
"Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they have a pre-existing condition," Obama said, in excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.
"Every year, they drop more people's coverage when they're sick and need it most. Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher."
"How much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance? ... When is the right time for health insurance reform?"
Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's health and human services secretary, meanwhile sent a letter to the CEOs of top health insurance firms demanding they publicly justify proposed health insurance premium hikes.
"If insurance companies are going to raise rates, the least they can do is tell us why," said Sebelius in the letter to the heads of insurance giants UnitedHealth Group Inc., WellPoint Inc., Aetna Inc., Health Care Service Corporation and CIGNA HealthCare Inc.
Obama is piling pressure on wavering lawmakers to sign on to his strategy, which calls for the House of Representatives to abandon legislation it approved in November and pass the Senate's version, coupled with "fixes" to that bill.
The White House has spent a year trying to pass health care reform and has paid a heavy political price, both in falling poll numbers and as the stalled bill slowed Obama's wider agenda.
The White House wants a House vote by March 18, but it is so far unclear whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the backing of sufficient Democrats, in a mid-term election year in which health care is a potent issue.
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all its citizens.
EXCERPTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S REMARKS ON HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM TODAY AT ARCADIA UNIVERSITY
As Prepared for Delivery
Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they’re sick and need it most. Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher. Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates by nearly 40%. In my home state of Illinois rates are going up by as much as 60%. And you just heard from Leslie, who was hit with a 100% rate increase. 100%. One letter from her insurance company and her premiums doubled. Just like that.
You see, these insurance companies have made a calculation. The other day, on a conference call organized by Goldman Sachs, an insurance broker told Wall Street investors that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep raising premiums. But since there’s so little competition in the insurance industry, they’re ok with people being priced out of health insurance because they’ll still make more by raising premiums on the customers they have. And they will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it.
So how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance? How many more businesses have to drop coverage? How many more years can the federal budget handle the crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid? When is the right time for health insurance reform?