UPDATE 2-U.S. House panel sets hearing on Wellpoint rates
* Lawmakers ask Wellpoint CEO to testify
* Hearing set for Feb 24
* Wellpoint says reviewing letter from committee (Adds company comment, details of lawmakers' request, byline)
By Lisa Richwine
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday called upon health insurer Wellpoint's (WLP.N) chief executive to testify about reports that a subsidiary will hike some premiums by as much as 39 percent.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Representative Bart Stupak, both Democrats, sent a letter to Angela Braly requesting her testimony at a Feb. 24 hearing after reports of premium hikes by Anthem Blue Cross of California, a Wellpoint unit.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that about 800,000 Anthem Blue Cross of California customers with individual health insurance plans would see their rates spike by as much as 39 percent on March 1. Anthem is a subsidiary of Wellpoint.
In the letter to Braly, the lawmakers said the panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee was investigating the reports. They sought information and internal documents, including "a detailed explanation of the reasons for the premium rate increase proposed by Anthem Blue Cross in California."
The lawmakers also asked for a list of proposed premium hikes from January 2009 through December 2010 and details on premium revenue, claims payments, expenses and profits for individual health insurance products from 2005 to 2008.
U.S. health insurers have been a prime target for Democrats, now forced to revise their strategy for expanding health insurance access after losing their supermajority in a special Senate election last month.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also sent a letter to Anthem on Monday asking for details on the reported rate hike. Sebelius said she was "very disturbed" by the situation. State authorities in California also are probing the matter.
Wellpoint spokeswoman Kristin Binns said on Tuesday the company was reveiwing the congressmen's letter.
Anthem spokeswoman Peggy Hinz on Monday had said the comapny had not made public any specific rates. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; editing by Carol Bishopric, Leslie Gevirtz)
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