Latest GOP Demand Is for Hearing on Health Insurance Premiums

CQ Political News

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are asking for a hearing on health insurance rate increases before lawmakers return to their districts to campaign for the midterm elections.

The panel’s 10 GOP members have asked Chairman Max Baucus to hold a hearing to explore the impact of the six-month-old health care law on insurance premiums.

Several insurers have recently announced sharp increases in premiums for small businesses and those who buy insurance in the individual market, blaming the increases on the cost of new benefits mandated by the law. But Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says insurers are using the law as a convenient excuse for rate hikes. HHS estimates the law would increase premiums by no more than 1 percent or 2 percent across the board.

The hearing request, and others like it, might provide a preview of what Republican-controlled committees are likely to focus on if the GOP takes control in the next Congress.

Lawmakers have sent a steady stream of hearing requests to committee chairmen since the overhaul became law, but the pace of those has markedly increased in recent weeks.

Republicans have asked for hearings on the overhaul’s cost, its implementation and any missed deadlines. They have also requested the appearance of specific witnesses, including Sebelius and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Donald M. Berwick.

In their letter to Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee Republicans requested testimony from HHS Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight Director Jay Angoff and CMS Chief Actuary Richard S. Foster on trends in the marketplace and the underlying issues behind insurance cost increases.

In April, Foster released an analysis saying the health care overhaul would cover millions more Americans, and increase the nation’s costs slightly — by less than 1 percent over the first 10 years. Republicans said the analysis confirmed their case that the law would increase costs.

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