Proposal Would Curb Health Insurance Rates Nationally.

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The New York Times (4/21, A15, Pear) reports, "Fearing that health insurance premiums may shoot up in the next few years, Senate Democrats laid a foundation on Tuesday for federal regulation of rates, four weeks after President Obama signed a law intended to rein in soaring health costs." Following "a hearing on the issue," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) stated that "he intended to move this year on legislation that would ‘provide an important check on unjustified premiums.’" Harkin added that "about 22 states in the individual market and 27 states in the small group market do not require a review of premiums before they go into effect."

The Los Angeles Times (4/21, Levey) reports that this action "is aimed at giving all states the power to stop premium hikes deemed excessive, and allowing the federal government to step in if the states don’t act." The Times adds, "Responsibility for regulating insurers has traditionally fallen to the states, but insurance commissioners’ ability to control rate hikes currently varies widely from state to state. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill, backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, are exploring ways to standardize that authority."

CQ Today (4/21, Ethridge, subscription required) says that the bill’s "sponsor Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) warned that more insurance companies may follow the lead of Anthem Blue Cross, which recently hiked rates 39 percent for some California customers, before the new health care overhaul…begins to take full effect in 2014." Commenting on the bill, Sen. Harkin said, "There is a gaping hole in our regulatory system, and it is unacceptable." The measure would allow the HHS Secretary "to review premium increases in states where the insurance commissioner does not have sufficient authority to do so, and to block or modify them before they go into effect."

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