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Obama Sees House Health Reform Vote Soon

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WASHINGTON–President Barack Obama hopes to get his health care reform bill through the House by March 18, his advisers said yesterday.

But getting the bill through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process would take longer, said Robert Gibbs, presidential press secretary.

At the same time, the White House enters the home stretch on getting health care reform legislation through Congress with support from state insurance regulators. After a meeting at the White House, members of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners backed a controversial proposal that would provide a federal backstop to states that now lack authority to force insurers to roll back large increases in health premiums.

In comments to reporters, Gibbs said the President hopes the House will act before he leaves for Indonesia and Australia March 18.

“I believe that, based on conversations that I’ve had in the building, that we’re on schedule to get this through the House by then,” he said.

The House bill will be the bill passed by the Senate, H.R. 3590.

Gibbs also said the public will be able to see the legislation “before it’s voted on. They’ll be able to evaluate what’s in it for them.”

After meeting with the president and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, NAIC regulators said that they would support a provision in the President’s proposed bill that would give state regulators with no authority to challenge health insurance rate increases the power to do so.

“State regulators are best positioned to perform rate review, and many of us do so with great success,” said Jane L. Cline, NAIC president and West Virginia insurance commissioner. “Some, however, have not been given the authority by their state legislatures to review and deny unjustified increases. We believe that a federal backstop could help encourage these legislatures to provide that authority,” she said.

The meeting was called to discuss recent large rate increases for people in the individual and small group market. Representatives of 4 health care insurers attended.

In the statement issued after the meeting, the NAIC said that they had emphasized at the meeting “the importance of thorough and objective rate review, adding that premium increases must be actuarially justified without discriminating unfairly against any groups of policyholders.”

“It is absolutely critical that the state role in assuring the solvency of health plans and promoting competitive markets be preserved,” said Sandy Praeger, chair of the NAIC health insurance and managed care committee and Kansas insurance commissioner. “Protecting consumers from high premiums remains a priority, but it is even more important to protect them from insolvency.”

Joel Ario, vice chairman of the NAIC’s health insurance and managed care committee and Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, pressed insurers to support reforms that would reduce the fragmentation of health insurance pools.

“One problem with premium increases is that rates go up a lot more for some people than for others,” he said. Premiums in a reformed marketplace would be more stable for all Americans, he argued

“Today’s discussion was part of a broader call for the stabilization of the markets,” the state regulators said in their statement. “Key provisions of the President’s proposal and the bills in Congress would promote this stability by ending discrimination based upon health status, pooling risk more broadly, bringing everyone into the market and ensuring that most of the premium dollar goes to paying claims.”


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