By now it's conventional wisdom in Washington that Republicans and Democrats can't agree on health care. Actually, the parties sometimes behave remarkably alike. Back on February 10, FutureOfCapitalism.com reported on the federal secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, sending a letter to WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross asking for an explanation of its rate increases in California. President Obama followed up with a video address on the issue. Today Senator Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, another insurance company, a letter about its plans to raise rates on Iowa customers. Said Mr. Grassley, "At a time of record unemployment rates and sluggish wage growth, I'm concerned that a rate increase of this magnitude could force some Iowans to drop health insurance entirely. . .. Recent reports have stated that Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to raise premiums by an average of 18 percent for approximately 80,000 of its 1.8 million customers. This is almost twice as much as last year's 9.3 percent increase. Moreover, some 44,000 Wellmark beneficiaries will see rate increases as high as 22 percent. I'm particularly concerned about the level of these increases since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Office of the Actuary recently reported that health care spending increased by a much lower rate of 5.7 percent in 2009. ... Iowans deserve a clear explanation for why premiums are increasing at a much faster rate than national health care spending."
What we said about Ms. Sebelius's letter applies equally to Mr. Grassley's: If Congress wants to pass a law, and the administration wants to sign it, setting prices for health insurance and limiting insurance company profits, or for gasoline prices and oil company profits, that's one thing. But to deal with the matter just by having government officials writing pointed letters to companies whose profits and pricing they dislike is another thing. It's not the rule of law, with predictable, announced rules that apply equally to everyone; it's something else, more arbitrary.
At least Mr. Grassley should get some credit for not going easy on his campaign contributors. His letter is addressed to Wellmark CEO John Forsyth. Federal Election Commission records show Mr. Forsyth donated $2,000 to Mr. Grassley's campaign on April 22, 2009, another $1,250 in 2008, $1,000 in 1998, $1,000 in 2001, $1,000 in 2003, $2,000 in 2004. Wellmark's political action committee, to which Mr. Forsyth donated at least $15,000, donated an additional $3,550 to Mr. Grassley between 2000 and 2004. Maybe Mr. Forsyth thinks Mr. Grassley is a great senator, but maybe he is making these campaign contributions because he knows Mr. Grassley has the power to make things difficult for him and his company when it tries to raise its prices.
We're still waiting for the politician who is going to write a letter denouncing the 333% increase in the single-copy weekday cover price of the New York Times in New York City.