WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. small businesses say they are facing demands from insurance companies for the biggest premium hikes in years.
Consultants for small business clients say small firms are looking at rate hikes twice the size they saw last year -- an average 15 percent rise that would take the annual premium from $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year to $5,500 in 2010, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The newspaper quoted experts saying insurance companies are raising their rates under pressure from Wall Street to generate profits ahead of possible regulations passed as part of U.S. healthcare reform efforts.
The moves are sure to come under attack by Democratic Party backers of efforts to help small businesses by providing relief from what President Barack Obama called Saturday "the crushing costs of healthcare costs that have forced too many small businesses to cut benefits, shed jobs, or shut their doors for good."
"This underlines the urgent need for health insurance reform, including a public option," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the Times. "We need to have competition for the insurance companies to keep premiums down."