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Nervous dates for Obamacare prom

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, July 16, 2010
Posted: 11 am ET

Now the delicate courting dance begins between the Obama administration and health insurance companies like Aetna, Cigna, WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group who fought like trapped ferrets to avoid being dragged to the "Obamacare" prom.

The foot-dragging is understandable: These are the same health insurance companies that Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been beating about the head and neck of late for jacking up premiums in the midst of a monster recession. Have you checked any insurance quotes lately?

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health insurance companies are raising rates by an average of 20 percent, and some as high as 39 percent, on individual (or "non-group") policies. That kind of behavior can get a prom queen pretty cranky.

But now that the prom is totally on -- albeit it in a few years, 2014 to be exact -- Sebelius is turning on the charm in hopes that her escorts will at least start to learn the steps if not suddenly fancy a tango. The administration rolled out its $5 billion Pre-Existing Condition Health Insurance program this month to break the ice.

Sebelius told Reuters she's calling on the health insurance industry to keep rates affordable, saying that to do otherwise would prove a disservice to consumers and insurance companies. The health reform law requires insurers to justify premium hikes beyond what is reasonable, but regulators have yet to define what constitutes an unreasonable increase.

Sebelius is optimistic that her reluctant prom date will come around -- and indeed, there are signs from industry groups that they're willing to work with the White House, provided it gives them a hand with things like rising medical costs.

What's your guess? Will Sebelius succeed in courting big insurance to her cause and stabilize health insurance rates until the prom? Or will health insurance companies jack their insurance rates anyway, even at the risk of losing customers?

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