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Health Insurer Continues to Take Heat from White House, Liberals

Health care reform advocates, including the Obama administration, continue to pound health insurer Anthem Blue Cross for its planned rate increases in California, trying to make it an example of why health care reform is needed.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who started using the micro-blogging site Twitter just this Saturday, fired off a "tweet" this morning reading, "Here's why 63% want Congress to act on health care -- BIG insurance rate increases and MORE coming." The message links to a CNN article about a poll showing public support for reform, as well as a New York Times article about Anthem's plan to raise rates as much as 39 percent for some customers.

The Times reports that the rate hike, and President Obama's subsequent scrutiny of the plan, "brought into clear relief the deep rift between the administration and the insurance industry concerning a central question: whether such unsustainable pricing is driven by the bloodless economics of risk or a corporate culture of greed."

WellPoint, Anthem's parent company, responded to administration inquiries that the rate hike was "unfortunate but necessary" because of rising medical costs and their smaller patient base, an explanation Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected.

The liberal grassroots group has also rejected its explanation and is collecting signatures for a petition demanding a "detailed explanation" from Blue Cross.

"These latest rate increases in California—reportedly the largest ever by Blue Cross for individual policyholders in the state—are yet another powerful example of how badly broken our health care system is and how desperately we need to hold Big Insurance accountable for exploiting their customers," MoveOn wrote in an e-mail to supporters.

As of Monday, the group had collected nearly 200,000 signatures and credited its campaign for Anthem's decision on Saturday to delay the rate increase by two months.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing on the rate increases later this month.

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