White House on defense after Sebelius remark on health law

Earnest said he had not read Sebelius’s remarks, but pointed to a blog post from Alan Krueger, the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, about the slowed growth of healthcare spending in recent years.

"[He] said that, 'Each year from 2009 to 2011 national health expenditure data shows the real rate of annual growth in overall health spending was between 3 percent and 3.1 percent,' which is actually the lowest rate of growth since reporting began in 1960," Earnest said, sidestepping the question of whether there will be an increase in premium costs for some people as a result of the law.

Earnest provided a sharper critique of a report by the Society of Actuaries that showed insurers would be on the hook an average 32 percent more per claims on individual insurance policies because of the law. The study also suggested those cost increases would be passed along to some consumers.

The White House spokesman said he wasn't "particularly surprised" that a study "conducted by a health insurance company that's critical of the Affordable Care Act" would come up with such results.

"The reason that the Affordable Care Act was put in place was to ensure that we were expanding access to healthcare for every American, but also because we wanted to actually protect consumers who were repeatedly victimized by insurance companies," Earnest said. "So it's not particularly surprising to me that an insurance company would conduct a study that was critical of a piece of legislation that was promising to hold them accountable for their actions."

Major parts of the healthcare law are slated for implementation next year. Republican critics have argued that the bill will result in increased rates, especially in the individual and small-group insurance markets.

In the same interview where she conceded that premiums could rise, Sebelius argued individuals "are really going to see much better benefit for the money that they're spending," and said government subsidies would help offset some price increases.