The chief executives of the nation’s largest health insurers were called to a meeting at the White House to discuss rising premiums.

The panel included the CEOs of Minneapolis–based UnitedHealth Group Inc., Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna Inc., Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp. and Philadelphia-based CIGNA HealthCare Inc., as well as representatives from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she wanted the executives to explain the recent surge in premium costs seen in several states. “I asked them to explain why these crushing burdens are being placed on middle-class families and what we can do to lower costs,” Sebelius said. “I also asked the CEOs to post the actuarial justification for these stunning rate increases online in an easy-to-understand manner, so that consumers can see why premiums are skyrocketing to the point that some people in the individual market can no longer afford coverage. I hope they will act quickly and make this information available to all of us. If insurance companies are going to raise rates, the least they can do is tell us why.”

Aetna CEO Ron Williams said the increases were justified and reflective of the costs insurers paid to other parts of the health care delivery system.

In addition to Sebelius, Vice-Chair of the NAIC Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee and Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario pressed insurers to support reforms that would reduce the fragmentation of health insurance pools. “One problem with premium increases is that rates go up a lot more for some people than for others,” Ario said, noting that premiums in a reformed marketplace would be more stable for all Americans.

President Obama also stopped by the meeting and read a letter from a 50-year old cancer survivor from Ohio whose premiums had risen 25% in 2009.

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