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News Briefs

Health Costs Up 11%, Survey Finds


A new national survey of health insurance costs shows premiums rose 11 percent in the past year, the biggest jump since 1992, and some Washington-area insurers say they will increase premiums again by 10 percent or more for next year.

The increases come as workers covered by employee-sponsored plans move away from health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and into less restrictive -- but more expensive -- preferred provider organizations (PPOs).

A survey of 2,734 employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust found 48 percent of employees this year are enrolled in PPOs, up from 28 percent in 1996, and 23 percent are enrolled in HMOs, down from 31 percent in 1996.

The American people “want to have their cake and eat it too,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser foundation. “They’re very concerned about health-care costs. At the same time, they are demanding forms of managed care that are least able to control health-care spending.”

A sampling of health insurers by The Washington Post found projected rate increases of 10 percent by Kaiser Permanente, eight to 12 percent by CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, and more than 15 percent by Cigna Healthcare Mid-Atlantic.

Danforth Named Envoy to Sudan


President Bush named former Senator John Danforth Thursday as a special envoy to help broker a peace agreement in Sudan’s civil war, injecting the United States into one of Africa’s most gruesome conflicts at a time when the administration has stepped back from high-level involvement elsewhere in the world.

The appointment of Danforth -- and its Rose Garden announcement -- reflects the White House’s keen awareness of the passionate interest taken in Sudan by a domestic coalition of evangelical Christians, African Americans and human rights activists.

While naming Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest with strong conservative credentials, the administration also unveiled about $5 million in development programs for southern Sudan, home to black Christian and animist groups fighting the Khartoum government, dominated by Arab Muslims from the north.

His selection comes after a lengthy search that saw several prominent candidates, including initially Danforth, balk at the daunting assignment to try to end the 18-year war in which the southern Sudanese are seeking greater autonomy or independence.

“I am under no illusions. Jack Danforth is taking on an incredibly difficult assignment,” Bush said. He added, “But this is an issue that is really important. It’s important to this administration. It’s important to the world to bring some sanity to the Sudan.”