Congress opened an investigation Tuesday into Anthem Blue Cross' impending rate increases in California as President Obama cited the premium hikes -- some as high as 39 percent -- in his bid to pass national healthcare legislation.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations announced they were examining the increases, which are set to take effect March 1. The subcommittee has scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing in Washington, while an Assembly committee in Sacramento has set a hearing for Feb 23.

"Reports of premium increases up to 39% are deeply troubling," Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who chairs the energy committee, said in a statement. "At a time when millions of Americans are struggling to keep their health insurance, we need to know what possible justification there could be for increases of this magnitude."

Anthem of Woodland Hills is the state's largest for-profit insurer and a unit of Indianapolis health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. At issue are increases in monthly premiums for many of Anthem's estimated 800,000 customers with individual health insurance policies who are not part of group coverage.

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