House Dems to call insurance execs twice to testify in final healthcare push

House Democrats will once again call executives of the nation’s largest health insurance companies before Congress to defend their business practices, just as party leaders make a final push for legislation aimed at forcing private insurers to compete with a government-run healthcare program.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) will hold a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 15, on the issue of “underinsurance,” what the pair described as the phenomenon of being “insured but not covered.”

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No witness list was announced. But Waxman and Stupak have been investigating the practices of the private insurance industry – which the two Democrats believe amount to unfair treatment of consumers and patients – for months, and have already forced dozens of companies to provide volumes of documents on profits, executive compensation, and other practices that Democrats believe illustrate why drastic changes are needed in determining how Americans receive healthcare coverage.

And the two senior Democrats have managed to create a number of uncomfortable moments for the executives called to testify on behalf of their companies.

At a June hearing on “rescissions,” the practice of canceling individual health insurance policies only after policy holders submit claims for costly illnesses, Democrats and Republicans alike grilled executives from companies including United Health and WellPoint – two of the nation’s largest private insurers – for refusing to promise to stop such practices.

“Doesn’t it bother you that people are going to die because you insist on reviewing a policy that somebody took out in good faith and forgot to tell you that they were being treated for acne? Doesn’t that bother you?” the Energy panel’s top Republican, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), asked at the June hearing. “We’ll back you up on fraud and misrepresentation, but I don’t think you’re going to get a vote, at all, on rescissions that are not material to the claim being processed.”

In numerous speeches across the country, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama 'not pulling any punches' at WHCD speech Watch Obama's full correspondents' dinner speech Five ways Trump will attack Clinton MORE has retold the stories of some of the very patients who testified before Waxman's panel about retroactively losing their healthcare coverage – or seeing a family member lose theirs – in order to incite support for legislation that would force private health insurers, either by law or through economics, to change many of their controversial practices.

Americans who are underinsured are generally described as having health insurance benefits that fall short of covering their medical expenses. Health experts generally consider a person underinsured if they spend more than 10 percent of their incomes on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

According to a recent study by the journal Health Affairs, some 25 million Americans between ages 19 and 64 were underinsured in 2007, a number that has increased 60 percent since 2003, according to the study, due in part to steadily increasing premiums and copays.

Waxman and Stupak have also been examining closely the profits and executive salaries at the largest insurance companies, and are planning a similar hearing on that issue for the end of October.