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Health Insurance Execs Face White House Grilling

If you run a health insurance company, it's really not much fun to come to Washington these days. But when the White House calls, there's little choice but to go anyway.

So today President Obama and administration officials will meet with insurance honchos and state insurance commissioners -- again. And according to an unnamed administration official who talked with Kaiser Health News, the president will warn them not to make "unjustified premium increases" for coverage while the new health law is rolled out.

Unfortunately, no press allowed. But there's plenty of foreshadowing about the session. And it sounds like some tough talk is on the way for the insurers.

The New York Times got David Axelrod, the president's No. 1 adviser, on the record about the tack his boss will take. "Our message to them is to work with this law, not against it; don’t try and take advantage of it or we will work with state authorities and gather the authority we have to stop rate gouging,” Axelrod told the paper. "Our concern is that they not try and, under the cover of the act, get in under the wire here on rate increases."

Afterward, though, Obama is supposed to talk publicly about how some of the new law's consumer protection features will work. We expect to hear about the elimination of insurers' lifetime caps on care and protections against on recissions, or the revocation of policies after someone gets sick.

Separately, the Kaiser Family Foundation released yesterday the results of a survey of more than 1,000 people who purchase insurance on the open market. The latest premium increase requested by the respondents' insurance carriers averaged 20 percent. More than three-quarters of those surveyed said the current or previous insurer was going to charge more for coverage than in the past.

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Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.