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Premium power grab! Feds take control of insurance prices

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her staff are implementing a new 136-page federal regulation which, for the first time ever, gives the federal government the power to set health insurance premium prices, a regulatory role traditionally reserved for the states, health policy experts are telling WND.

The new price control rule centralizes regulation of insurance policy premiums – and coverage – in Washington, D.C., under the aegis of Sebelius, a longtime radical abortion advocate and instrumental player in President Obama’s cabinet for the Obamacare agenda.

Sebelius, a former Democratic governor of Kansas, has been a mover in liberal health policy circles for years.

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“Government control over the health care sector is the ultimate goal of Obamacare, and the latest rule giving the secretary authority over health insurance prices is part of the march,” Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, an Alexandria, Va.-based health policy think tank, told WND. “We’re only seeing the beginning of the onslaught of regulations to come.”

Another analyst noted that the policy essentially creates another layer of red tape for health insurance firms to jump through in order to bring policies to market, and likely will discourage new companies from entering the market, or established companies from expanding their offerings.

That means fewer choices for consumers, who purchase policies for their families, or employers who offer their workers health insurance, say experts.

“It’s just one more way to drive health insurers out of the health insurance market,” Hans Bader, a senior attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank in Washington D.C., told WND.

The move seems to be in line with recommendations from Obama advisers that his administration simply rule by executive action.

The recommendation had come from the Center for American Progress in Washington, headed by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta. He has said Obama can implement almost any progressive agenda he wants, now that he’s facing a GOP majority in the U.S. House, in complete disregard of Congress.

Podesta’s report said Obama should use executive orders, rulemaking through executive branch administrative agencies, agency management, convening and creating public-private partnerships, commanding the armed forces and diplomacy to achieve want he wants without Congress have a voice.

“The ability of President Obama to accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated,” Podesta said. “Congressional deadlock does not mean the federal government stands still.”

Bader also sees other nefarious motives behind the Obama administration’s price control policy. Having the power to set premium rates serves as a “club” for Obama which he can use against any health insurance company that dares to speak out against his policies.

“The administration can try to chop the rates of individual insurance companies it dislikes,” said Bader

Bader said that is going to be rough on the industry, as profit margins in the health industry are already low.

“It’s just too low to be reduced much on an industry-wide basis through price caps,” said Bader, who worked on an amicus brief with the Cato Institute in support of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli’s lawsuit against Obamacare in Richmond, Va. At the district court level, Obamacare’s individual mandate was declared unconstitutional, a decision that now is on appeal.

This came to a boil earlier this year during the public debate over Obamacare, said Bader, who also has filed an amicus brief in the legal case against Obamacare in federal court in Florida.

The administration issued a gag order against Humana, a leading health insurer and provider of Medicare Advantage coverage, for daring to speak out on the ill effects of Obamacare on health care for senior citizens.

Ultimately, Humana’s criticisms were correct, Bader said.

“Obamacare did indeed harm Medicare Advantage programs, as well as increasing the cost of health insurance and reducing the availability of health insurance,” said Bader, noting that in October, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare terminated its Medicare Advantage program, which insured 22,000 seniors in the Boston metro area.

Other insurers are getting out of the market already, too, Bader said. Principal Financial, which insures about 840,000 through its employer-based health insurance plans, will stop selling health insurance.

Policy experts believe this is a rational business choice for many insurers. The Obama administration “wants to force insurance providers to operate at a net loss,” Rev. Isaac C. Hayes, spokesman for the Illinois Coalition of Black Republicans, said.

Some employers also are starting to drop health care coverage as a result of the new health reform act signed by Obama, Bader said.

A major employer, 3M, said it will eventually stop offering health insurance to retirees, as a result of the new law. Fast food chain McDonald’s is planning to drop health care coverage too, and major employers, including Caterpillar and AT&T, are reporting dramatically increased health care costs for employees in their financial statements.

Bader is fearful that the Obama administration is going to continue to try to suppress free speech which harms the socialized health care agenda, which may be why others have not stepped up, yet, to announce changes as a result of the law. Many insurance companies are government contractors, especially those which provide health insurance for seniors and the disabled and children, and may feel chilled by Sebelius’ earlier push back against Humana.

Case law indicates that the Constitution provides free speech protections for government contractors, Bader said, noting that the Supreme Court ruled on the matter 14 years ago in the case of “Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr,” 518 U.S. 668 (1996).

In the meantime, Obama’s political apparatchiks are granting waivers from Obamacare for labor unions and other friends of the administration which are having financial difficulty complying with the byzantine law and related regulations. Even the administration, with those waivers, clearly acknowledges that the health care act does not deliver as much real reform as advertised during the debate during the last year. For health insurance companies, however, this is remains a real threat, and not an abstract battle over policy. Insurers may now have to live, and fear for the future, by the whims of Obama’s radical appointees.

Some analysts also fear that Obama may continue to try to override the Constitution to achieve Fidel Castro-style health care in the U.S.

“It is clear this administration is keen on pursuing one end,” said Hayes. “Totalitarian use of force.”