HHS reviews of insurance rates begin today

New rules begin Thursday that allow the federal government to review double-digit increases in health insurance premiums.

The Health and Human Services Department will review proposed increases of 10 percent or more to determine whether the increase is "excessive." The reviews are designed to determine whether premiums are going up because of a rise in healthcare costs or because insurers are padding their profits.

The healthcare reform law allows HHS to review rate increases, but the department doesn't have the power to reject those hikes, even if it deems them excessive.

Some states have that authority — HHS has awarded $48 million in grants to help states bolster their rate-review programs.

"Rate review will shed a bright light on the industry’s behavior and drive market competition to lower costs,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.