California health insurers subpoenaed in rate probe – Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California Attorney General Jerry Brown on Thursday subpoenaed financial records and other documents from the state’s seven largest health insurance companies as part of a widening investigation of the industry.

Brown said his office was looking into “possibly illegal practices” among state health insurers and is “very concerned that some of them are unjustly raising premiums and denying payment of legitimate claims.”

The action by Brown, who is expected to officially launch a campaign for governor in the next few weeks, comes as sharp rate hikes instituted or planned by several leading California insurers drew national attention.

California’s biggest for-profit health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, said earlier this week it would go forward with plans to raise its premiums for some individuals by up to 39 percent, despite criticism from the Obama administration.

The White House and congressional Democrats seized on Anthem’s proposed rate hikes as part of their strategy to boost support for revamping the U.S. healthcare system, the subject of a bipartisan policy summit in Washington on Thursday.

New regulation of health insurers was a key part of the overhaul plan President Barack Obama announced on Monday, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to end the industry’s 65-year-old antitrust exemption.

The head of Anthem’s parent company, WellPoint Inc, appeared on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to defend its rates, rejecting charges that it was raising premiums to “squeeze” consumers in the name of profit.

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