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New jolt for healthcare reform? Insurer hikes rates 39 percent.

Democrats are using the decision of WellPoint to raise rates for some customers by as much as 39 percent – despite a $4.75 billion profit – to rally supporters.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 3. Sebelius said Thursday that 'it remains difficult to understand' how such premium increases could be justified when WellPoint reported a $4.75 billion profit in the last quarter of 2009.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Has a cost hike by a health insurer in California given new life to the Democratic healthcare-reform legislation in Washington?

Maybe not directly. But the decision by WellPoint to raise rates for some California customers by as much as 39 percent has given top Democrats a perceived villain they can rally supporters against.

Calling the WellPoint decision “reckless,” Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada on Thursday said it showed why healthcare reform is needed.

“We don’t have to let greedy health-insurance executives drag down our future,” Senator Reid said.

President Obama made a similar point, using less-harsh language, at his Tuesday press conference. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said Thursday that “it remains difficult to understand” how such premium increases could be justified when WellPoint reported a $4.75 billion profit in the last quarter of 2009.

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