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Obama aide puts moral case to health insurers

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Barack Obama’s top health official made a tough moral case to insurance giants Wednesday: put people and patriotism before profits and drop opposition to the president’s overhaul plans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius braved an industry conference two days after Obama issued a stinging attack on health insurance firms, accusing them of dumping ailing customers to hike profits. Her intervention marked another escalation in the White House’s attempt to drive the health care plan to a successful conclusion, with Obama’s political authority and hopes for a reforming legacy on the line. Sebelius told delegates that they could continue their opposition, and by next year, premiums will rise further and more small businesses would be forced to close or cancel health coverage for employees.

“Americans will continue to live in fear of the next letter from their insurer announcing the latest premium hike,”Sebelius said at the national policy forum of the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) industry group. “This strategy may work in the short run … but this kind of short-term thinking won’t work in the long run for the American people or our health care system,” she said, in remarks released by the White House. Sebelius called on the industry to take millions of dollars from campaign advertising war chests and use it to give Americans relief from “skyrocketing premiums.”

“If you take this approach, you may give up some short-term profits. But you will also be helping to create a sustainable health insurance market where all Americans will be able to buy coverage,” she said.The White House is pressuring Congress to act on Obama’s revamped health insurance plan by March 18, when the president leaves on a trip to Indonesia and Australia. Senior Democrats appeared to balk at that timetable on Tuesday. But Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives appeared to moderate his opposition, telling NBC Wednesday that it was his “objective” to meet that deadline.

In a bid to evade Republican blocking tactics, Obama wants the House to ditch legislation it approved in November and pass the Senate’s version of health care reform coupled with “fixes” to that bill. But the approach is high-risk as some conservative Democrats oppose it and others have a wary eye on the polls, with a third of senators and all of the House of Representatives up for re-election in November’s mid-term elections.

Washington, March 10, 2010 (AFP)