Pete Stark: Profitable insurers should cut premiums

Just as public opinion helped shape the battle over health care reform in 2009 and early this year, so will it affect Republicans’ upcoming effort to repeal the law that was passed.

Pete StarkRep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, soon to lose his gavel as House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee chairman now that the GOP is set to take over the House in the next Congress, sent a letter today to the CEOs of 10 for-profit insurance companies to urge them to lower their customers’ premiums in light of higher profits.

The ten companies combined have announced a total of $9.3 billion in profits for the first nine months of 2010; that’s $2.1 billion higher than the first nine months of 2009.

“On average, your profits have gone up 41 percent from last year,” Stark wrote. “Health insurance premiums are eating up more and more of the budgets of working families. Over the past decade, premiums for workers and employers have more than doubled, while family incomes have remained stagnant. I call upon your companies to share the billions you are reaping in higher profits with your policyholders by lowering premiums. Please respond with your plans to pass these profits along to consumers. I appreciate your prompt response to this inquiry.”

“I haven’t heard back from any of them, I’m waiting anxiously for their reply,” he said dryly this afternoon. “We’ve been hammering on them just to hopefully embarrass them and show the public that the health bill features will in many cases force them to hold back their price increases, that’s one of the major benefits to the public at large.”

The Affordable Care Act in 2014 will establish a new competitive insurance marketplace including state-run health insurance exchanges where millions of Americans and small businesses will be able to purchase affordable coverage. Stark said that’s why some insurers want the new GOP House majority to repeal the bill.

“Guilt doesn’t work but the public’s indignation does,” he said. “They need to get the public to try to repeal the health bill and we need to keep the public from doing that. This is all about can we maintain the health care bill and benefits we believe it brings, that’s the basis for all of this … Now that were in the minority, I guess we’re fighting a different battle than we were six months ago, darn it.”

Stark wrote to the CEOs of WellPoint Inc.; Amerigroup Corp.; Healthspring Inc.; Health Net Inc.; UnitedHealth Group Inc.; Humana Inc.; Molina Healthcare Inc.; Centene Corp.; Aetna Inc.; and Coventry Health Care Inc. Some other insurers have acted more responsibly, he said, calling Blue Shield of California “an exemplary group, and Kaiser – Kaiser has been quite admirable. They’ve raised their rates but not unconscionably.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Good old Pete!

    He never misses an opportunity to show that he is nuttier than a pecan orchard.