Obama slams Anthem rate increase in pushing healthcare bill

President Barack Obama on Saturday joined the chorus of Democratic lawmakers using news of pending health insurance premium hikes in California as a rallying cry for enactment of a long-stalled comprehensive healthcare reform bill.

“The other week, men and women across California opened up their mailboxes to find a letter from Anthem Blue Cross. The news inside was jaw-dropping,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “Anthem was alerting almost a million of its customers that it would be raising premiums by an average of 25 percent, with about a quarter of folks likely to see their rates go up by anywhere from 35 to 39 percent.”

Since news of Anthem Blue Cross’ planed premium increases first broke, Democrats in both the House and the Senate have cited little else in arguing their case for refusing to let healthcare reform slip through their fingers.

But with the economy and debate over a jobs bill dominating the majority of their attention so far this year, Democrats had shown very little progress in merging two competing bills, or even formulating a cohesive strategy for sending a single bill to the president’s desk.

That seemed to change Friday, however, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office left the door open to using a parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation to pass a bill out of the Senate with only 51 votes.

And just days ahead of Obama’s much-anticipated bipartisan, televised healthcare forum, the president himself on Friday – speaking at a town-hall style meeting in Las Vegas – began to reemphasize the importance of finishing the task of signing a healthcare reform bill into law.

He reiterated that argument during his Saturday address.

“The bottom line is that the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America,” Obama said. “And as bad as things are today, they’ll only get worse if we fail to act. We’ll see more and more Americans go without the coverage they need. We’ll see exploding premiums and out-of-pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets.”

Obama also cited recent revelations about how much in profits some of the nation’s largest private health insurance companies took in last year – as Democratic leaders have also done – in pushing for a bill making monumental changes to the country’s health insurance infrastructure.

But Obama was again light on legislative specifics – as Congressional Democrats have increasingly been critical of – and devoted the majority of his remarks to discussing the importance of an open, bipartisan process, and addressing members of Congress directly.

“To members of Congress, I would simply say this: We know the American people want us to reform our health insurance system,” Obama said. “We know where the broad areas of agreement are. And we know where the sources of disagreement lie. After debating this issue exhaustively for a year, let’s move forward together.

“Next week is our chance to finally reform our health insurance system so it works for families and small businesses,” Obama continued. “It’s our chance to finally give Americans the peace of mind of knowing that they’ll be able to have affordable coverage when they need it most.”