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Sebelius calls for insurance transparency

From NBC's Athena Jones
Calling transparency among health insurance providers "an important step for consumers" Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said companies should make information about their requests to raise insurance premiums available online.

Sebelius made the remarks after a meeting with executives from the nation's top insurance providers and a handful of state insurance commissioners on how to bring down health care costs.

"I'm hoping the CEOs respond to the call" of putting this information up in public so the administration can "shine a bright light" on their practices, she said.

The call comes just weeks after WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross proposed raising premiums by as much as 39% in California. That rate increase request has been withdrawn for at least two months and the California insurance commission has opened an investigation into the matter, Sebelius said.

Sebelius told reporters President Obama had stopped by the meeting briefly to share his concerns about the current system, which he believes is "simply unsustainable," something she said was acknowledged by the company executives present. And in a rare direct reference to the political opposition to the health care overhaul legislation the administration hopes will work its way through Congress by the Easter recess, the secretary spoke about "a big disagreement" between Republicans' strategy and the president's strategy.

"Republicans at the end of the day feel it's acceptable to have a risk pool that only has sick people in it," Sebelius said, a reference to group people with pre-existing conditions in high risk pools. "The president said we need a different marketplace."

The meeting's participants included: WellPoint, Inc. CEO Angela F. Braly; CIGNA HealthCare, Inc. CEO David M. Cordani; Health Care Service Corporation CEO Patricia Hemingway-Hall; Aetna, Inc. CEO Ronald Allen Williams; UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley; Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario (Chair NAIC Health Committee); Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger (Chair NAIC Health Committee); West Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline (President, NAIC); NAIC Executive Director Therese Vaughan.

Early in the meeting, Aetna CEO Williams acknowledged the need to bring down costs across all parts of the health care delivery system -- from pharmaceutical companies to hospitals to device manufacturers -- to help bring down premiums.

"We do things that don't need to be done in terms of paying for procedures and not paying for results," he said.