WASHINGTON — Many young, healthy Americans could soon see a jump in their health-insurance costs, and insurance companies are saying: It's not our fault.
The nation's insurers are engaged in an all-out, last-ditch effort to shield themselves from blame for what they predict will be rate increases on new policies they must unveil this spring to comply with President Barack Obama's health-care law.
Insurers point to several reasons that premiums will rise. They will soon be required to offer more-comprehensive coverage than many currently provide. Also, their costs will increase because they will be barred from rejecting the sick, and they will no longer be allowed to charge older customers sharply higher premiums than younger ones.
Supporters of the law counter that concerns about price hikes are overstated, partly because federal subsidies will cushion the blow.
The insurers' public relations blitz is being propelled by a growing cast of executives, lobbyists, conservative activists and state health officials. They increasingly use the same catchphrase — "rate shock" — to warn about the potential for price surges.
Aetna chief executive Mark Bertolini invoked the term at his company's recent annual investor conference, cautioning that premiums for plans sold to individuals could rise as much as 50 percent on average and could more than double for particular groups such as the young and healthy.
The danger of "rate shock" has also become the favored weapon of conservative opponents of the law, repeated in a drumbeat of op-eds and policy papers in recent weeks.
The argument is a powerful one because the success of the law, which was the signature domestic accomplishment of Obama's first term, depends on enough people signing up for insurance, particularly healthy people. The issue is surfacing as the most recent significant challenge in implementing the health-care overhaul.