Obama Meets With Health Insurance Industry

By , April 12, 2013

WASHINGTON — President Obama met with insurance industry executives at the White House on Friday to coordinate the introduction this fall of the insurance marketplaces at the heart of the national health care law, and to discuss so-called rate shock if the industry sharply raises premiums.

“We’re all in this together,” Mr. Obama told the executives, according to people with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified discussing it.

Government and industry, which battled while forging the law, are now “joined at the hip,” the president said at one point. “We’re going to make it work.”

For weeks, news reports have conveyed industry warnings that the new law could lead to higher premiums for many people, because the policies to be sold under the law’s requirements will be more comprehensive than those many Americans have now. Republicans in Congress, who remain united in opposition three years after the law’s enactment, have held hearings to underscore such warnings.

But the administration says such talk is overblown. Consumers can move from expensive health plans to more efficient, lower-cost policies, officials say, and critics who focus on premiums do not take account of other provisions of the law that limit how much consumers will spend out of pocket for health care.

The administration predicts that those who get coverage after being uninsured are generally going to be younger and healthier than those who have insurance. That will hold down total costs of coverage for insurers and the government, officials say, and tend to hold down premiums in turn. If premiums do increase, they argue, lower-income people can get federal help.

Either way, both sides face a colossal challenge in planning for one of the most complicated and far-reaching social undertakings ever. On Oct. 1, enrollment starts nationwide for the emerging marketplaces where many millions of Americans can shop for coverage. Mr. Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires most Americans to have health insurance, and provides subsidies for the needy, to expand coverage to an estimated 27 million uninsured Americans — including seven million through the exchanges in the first year.

Mr. Obama had not been scheduled to attend the meeting, but he presided over the entire hourlong session, which included his chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and his health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. One official called it “productive,” adding that “the president discussed our shared goal of educating Americans about the value of health insurance and the new health insurance marketplaces.”

Among attendees from the industry, which stands to get millions more customers, were Karen M. Ignagni, the head of a trade association for the insurance industry; Chet Burrell of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield; David M. Cordani of the Cigna Corporation; Scott P. Serota of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, a federation of local Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies; and Joseph R. Swedish of WellPoint.

Officials said that each side shared information about how it was planning to spread the word about the insurance exchanges and enrollment centers, especially among young people.

Before the meeting, Ms. Sebelius told the House Ways and Means Committee, “There are costs going up and down, but what we know is that they are rising at a much slower rate right now than they did three years ago, before this law was passed. We have insurance departments, many for the first time, with aggressive rate review strategies in place.”

The marketplaces would intensify competition, she said, adding, “When plans have to compete side by side and it’s very transparent, that in and of itself drives prices down.”

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