President decries premium hikes, seeks good faith negotiations in upcoming health summit

With the backdrop of rising health care premium costs, President Obama used his weekly address as yet another opportunity to request bi-partisan support for health reform legislation. The issue of costs gained increased scrutiny when word was released that Anthem Blue Cross out of California was preparing to raise premiums, in some cases as high as 39%, for its customers. That decision has since been delayed, however the pressing issue of health care costs remains front and center as the President prepares to engage both parties in a public health summit this week.

via the San Francisco Chronicle:

by Victoria Colliver

[I]ndividual Anthem Blue Cross members – those who are not covered under an employer or group policy – received letters informing them that their monthly premiums would go up effective March 1.

Anthem, a Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County) insurer owned by Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., has refused to disclose how many people are affected or how high rates will rise, but the company has about 800,000 individual policyholders in California, and members have reported increases in the range of 30 to 39 percent.

Under the backdrop of stalled national health reform, the Obama administration has pointed to Anthem Blue Cross’ actions as a reason comprehensive overhaul is needed. At a White House briefing Tuesday, President Obama said the increases are a sign of what will happen to many Americans without reform.

This week’s summit has been praised and criticized by political pundits. Some feel it’s no more than political theater while some supporters of health reform think such an open process might shed light on leaders who seek political gain through obstructionism. Either way, this week’s summit has the potential to breath life to a health care debate that some had presumed died with the election of Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts. The White House has seemingly jumped at an oportunity to rally support by contextualizing the argument in a manner of those who want reform versus those who are happy with the status quo; those who have ideas versus those who no ideas. And renewed discussion of a public option (the vote count and practicality of which has still yet to be determined) has also reentered the debate.

In pushing for reform, the President outlined the damage that could result if health care premiums continue to rise as they have thus far:

“Over the past year as families and small business owners have struggled to pay soaring health care costs, and as millions of Americans lost their coverage, the five largest insurers made record profits of over $12 billion. And as bad as things are today, they’ll only get worse if we fail to act. We’ll see more and more Americans go without the coverage they need. We’ll see exploding premiums and out-of-pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets. We’ll see more and more small businesses scale back benefits, drop coverage, or close down because they can’t keep up with rising rates. And in time, we’ll see these skyrocketing health care costs, become the single largest driver of our federal deficits. That’s what the future is on track to look like. But it’s not what the future has to look like. The question, then, is whether we will do what it takes, all of us — Democrats and Republicans — to build a better future for ourselves, our children and our country.”

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