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Sebelius: Consumers face steep medical insurance hikes

WASHINGTON - Consumers are facing budget-busting increases in medical insurance premiums, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said yesterday, releasing a report the Obama administration hopes will tap public outrage and help revive its stalled health care overhaul.

People buying their own insurance in at least six states have been facing pressure from insurers to raise rates by as much 56 percent, the report said. The problem is likely to be more widespread, but data from individual insurers in different states are difficult to obtain, officials said.

"We think it shines a light on the urgency for health reform," Sebelius told reporters.

The Democratic health care bills would lower costs for many consumers by offering government subsidies to most of those buying their own coverage. Premiums would remain high, but insurers would face greater government scrutiny when they try to raise rates.

Proposed premium increases of as much as 39 percent by WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross in California set off a wave of criticism and forced the company last week to announce a postponement. President Barack Obama seized on Anthem as Exhibit A to make his case for sweeping change before a bipartisan White House health summit next week. California officials said more than 700,000 households face increases averaging 25 percent overall and as high as 39 percent for some.

WellPoint blamed its rate increases on rising medical costs and a pool of customers that is gradually becoming older and sicker, as younger, healthier people drop coverage. It insisted that its competitors are raising rates in much the same way. - AP

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