Politics

Former HHS Official: Agency Is Hiding Rate Hikes

The Obama administration is hiding insurance companies’ requested rate increases from the public in violation of Obamacare, according to a lawsuit from a former Obamacare official.

Health and Human Services conducts rate reviews for several states that don’t have their own review programs, The Washington Post reports. But HHS hasn’t fulfilled its duty of making rate requests or justifications public for Americans to comment, according to a lawsuit filed by a consumer watchdog.

Mehri & Skalet attorney Jay Angoff, who had advised former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius on implementing Obamacare, is suing HHS on behalf of the Consumers Council of Missouri, a state-based consumer group. The complaint accuses HHS of failing to make rate filings, specifically Missouri’s, public for 2015 health plans or for the past several years.

“Allowing the public to see not just the rate itself but the justification, the assumption companies make on which the rate is based, is something that can only have a pro-competitive effect in the market,” Angoff said. “The only way those rates are likely to come down is if the rate filing justifications are made public.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday after HHS failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request asking for the rate filings. HHS also ignored a letter last April from dozens of consumer organizations nationwide — asking for the rate filing information to be released.

The consumer group in question even wants the rate filings to be made public for reasons in line with the Obama administration’s goals: in order to pressure insurance companies to keep rates lower.

“I would also think that — this is not relevant to the legal issue — but politically, it would also make sense because…when you make rate filing information public, that is going to be more likely to lead to lower rates. Which is obviously good for the administration.”

And yet, HHS has repeatedly refused to make the filings public. The lack of transparency could lead many to assume that the administration is loath to release any insurer premium hike requests before it has negotiated them down, for fear of the public seeing that premium rates are increasing with or without Obamacare.

Follow Sarah on Twitter