"There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases."
That sounds like a stern headmistress dressing down some sophomores who have been misbehaving. But it's actually from a letter sent Thursday from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans -- the chief lobbyist for private health insurance companies.
Sebelius objects to claims by health insurers that they are raising premiums because of increased costs imposed by the Obamacare law passed by Congress last March.
She acknowledges that many of the law's "key protections" take effect later this month and does not deny that these impose additional costs on insurers. But she says that "according to our analysis and those of some industry and academic experts, any potential premium impact ... will be minimal."
Well, that's reassuring. Er, except that if that's the conclusion of "some" industry and academic experts, it's presumably not the conclusion of all industry and academic experts, or the secretary would have said so.
Sebelius also argues that "any premium increases will be moderated by out-of-pocket savings resulting from the law." But she's pretty vague about the numbers -- "up to $1 billion in 2013." Anyone who watches TV ads knows that "up to" can mean zero.
As Time magazine's Karen Pickert points out, Sebelius ignores the fact that individual insurance plans cover different types of populations. So that government and "some" industry and academic experts think the new law will justify increases averaging 1 percent or 2 percent, they could justify much larger increases for certain plans.
Or as Ignagni, the recipient of the letter, says, "It's a basic law of economics that additional benefits incur additional costs."
But Sebelius has "zero tolerance" for that kind of thing. She promises to issue regulations to require "state or federal review of all potentially unreasonable rate increases" (which would presumably mean all rate increases).
And there's a threat. "We will also keep track of insurers with a record of unjustified rate increases: those plans may be excluded from health insurance Exchanges in 2014."
That's a significant date, the first year in which state insurance exchanges are slated to get a monopoly on the issuance of individual health insurance policies. Sebelius is threatening to put health insurers out of business in a substantial portion of the market if they state that Obamacare is boosting their costs.
"Congress shall make no law," reads the First Amendment, "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
Sebelius' approach is different: "zero tolerance" for dissent.