Premium-hike announcements draw mixed reaction

Both sides of the health reform debate reacted Wednesday to the news that health plans were blaming the new law for premium increases in the coming weeks.

A Wall Street Journal review of filings with state regulators found that insurers including Aetna Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield plans were asking for premium increases between 1 percent and 9 percent in the individual and small-group market to pay for extra benefits required by the new law.

"For small businesses already struggling in today’s economy, every additional dollar they must spend on premiums is money that cannot be spent on wages, hiring new employees, or investing in capital," House Ways and Means Republicans said in a statement.

The liberal grassroots group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) dismissed the healthcare reform argument as "part of a sophisticated campaign to undermine the new health care law and protect their stranglehold on our health care."

"Even before they knew what the health care law would say, the insurance companies said it would drive up our premiums," HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome said in a statement. “The health insurance industry is doing the same thing it has always done, raising premiums to achieve excessive profits and outrageous salaries for their CEOs."

The industry group America's Health Insurance Plans said new benefits set to start Sept. 23 include: a prohibition on lifetime limits; restrictions on annual limits; first-dollar coverage of preventive services; an extension of dependent coverage up to age 26; new internal and external appeals processes; new rules regarding coverage for emergency services; and a prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions for children.