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Health Care Showdown: The White House Takes on Insurers

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Before that report surfaced, administration officials said the rate hikes aren't fair. "It just doesn't make a lot of sense to people across America," Sebelius said on a conference call with reporters after the White House meeting.

"We're very hopeful that people will actually come forward with the information," she said. "They at the very least owe that to their customers ... [and] need to be able to justify what is going on."

WellPoint CEO Angela Braly told reporters on a conference call that she told Obama the rapid rise in health care costs is a problem and her company often is the "bearer of bad news in form of rate increases."

Steve Hemsley from United Health Group said on the conference call that the group told Obama the average profit margins for the largest insurers were about 2.2 percent in 2009, down from the previous year.

"There was some acknowledgment on their part that there was a misunderstanding about level of profitability," Hemsley said.

The discussion centered around transparency and disclosing the underlying reasons for rates going up, the insurers and White House said. During the meeting Obama read a letter from an Ohio woman with cancer whose insurance is increasing by 40 percent.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in his daily briefing today that if insurers feel their profits have been singled out unfairly they can release the actuarial data the Obama administration has requested. As we've been detailing, the administration and congressional Democrats have pressured WellPoint to disclose profits margins, cost of care and salaries of executives as they probe the 39 percent proposed increase on WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross customers in California.

Gibbs and others have used the massive rate hikes - more of which are expected across the country - to say reform is more necessary then ever. The final health care proposal includes a rate authority that would allow Sebelius to evaluate hikes and demand justification.

Earlier this week America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni sent Sebelius a letter detailing why premiums are going up.

"[W]e believe the data clearly show that premiums are increasing primarily because of soaring medical costs and a slowdown in the economy," she wrote.