Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked health insurance companies to come clean with their customers about why they've experience what she called "jaw-dropping" rate hikes.

Sebelius announced Thursday that insurers will be required to post information about rate hikes online along with data justifying why the increases are necessary.

 

Sebelius says Americans fear they're being priced out of the insurance markets, and that's one of the reasons President Obama is determined to pass health care reform legislation.

She said the issue of high premiums isn't limited to one state or one company, "The individual and small group market is seeing double digit rate increases across the board," she said.

"We need some transparency. We need people to understand what's going on," Sebelius told reporters after meeting with a group of insurance executives and commissioners at the White House Thursday.

The Obama administration has come out swinging against insurance companies like Anthem Blue Cross of California, whose customers have recently seen their rates soar to 39 percent.

President Obama , who wasn't expected to attend Thursday's meeting, showed up unannounced with a letter from an Ohio woman whose premiums will reach 40% next year.

The President's plan, which was posted to the White House website late last month, would include a rate hike authority that would monitor the premiums that insurance companies charge.

The board would examine the rates and report those they deemed excessive to the HHS secretary. Sebelius would then be in a position to force insurers to adjust their costs.

Republicans have argued that such a move represents big government at its worst and insurance companies would suffer due to a lack of competition in the markets.