NU Online News Service

WASHINGTON–President Obama hopes to get his health care reform bill through the House by March 18, his advisers said yesterday, but the president’s press secretary said getting the bill through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process will take longer.

At the same time, the White House enters the home stretch on getting health care reform legislation through Congress with support from state insurance regulators–on a controversial proposal that would provide a federal backstop to state insurance regulators lacking the authority to force insurers to roll back large increases in health premium rates.

In comments to reporters, Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the President hopes the House will act before he leaves for Indonesia and Australia on March 18th.

“We believe that–I believe that, based on conversations that I’ve had in the building, that we’re on schedule to get this through the House by then,” he said.

The House bill will be the bill passed by the Senate, H.R. 3590.

Gibbs also said the public will be able to see the legislation “before it’s voted on. They’ll be able to evaluate what’s in it for them.”

Regarding the NAIC, regulators said that after meeting with the president and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, they would support a provision in the president’s proposed bill allowing state regulators with no authority to challenge health insurance rate increases.

“State regulators are best positioned to perform rate review and many of us do so with great success,” said Jane L. Cline, NAIC president and West Virginia insurance commissioner.

“Some, however, have not been given the authority by their state legislatures to review and deny unjustified increases,” she explained. “We believe that a federal backstop could help encourage these legislatures to provide that authority.”

The meeting was convened to discuss recent large rate increases for people in the individual and small group market. Representatives of four healthcare insurers attended.

The statement issued after the meeting said that the NAIC, at the meeting “stressed the importance of thorough and objective rate reviews, adding that premium increases must be actuarially justified without discriminating unfairly against any groups of policyholders.”

Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the NAIC Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee and Kansas insurance commissioner said, “It is absolutely critical that the state role in assuring the solvency of health plans and promoting competitive markets be preserved.”

She noted, “Protecting consumers from high premiums remains a priority, but it is even more important to protect them from insolvency.”

Joel Ario, vice chairman of the NAIC’s Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee and Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, pressed insurers to support reforms that would reduce the fragmentation of health insurance pools.

“One problem with premium increases is that rates go up a lot more for some people than for others,” he said, adding that premiums in a reformed marketplace would be more stable for all Americans.

In their statement, the state regulators said, “Today’s discussion was part of a broader call for the stabilization of the markets.”

They added, “Key provisions of the President’s proposal and the bills in Congress would promote this stability by ending discrimination based upon health status, pooling risk more broadly, bringing everyone into the market and ensuring that most of the premium dollar goes to paying claims.”