Anthem Blue Cross on Saturday announced it would delay until May 1 controversial price increases of up to 39 percent for its individual health insurance policyholders in California, but maintained its rates were fair, legal and necessary.

The announcement followed a barrage of criticism in recent weeks from policyholders, consumer advocates, regulators, state legislators, members of Congress and the Obama administration.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said Saturday that he secured an agreement with Anthem to postpone for at least two months the increases that had been set to take effect March 1 for many of the estimated 800,000 policyholders. The delay, he said, would give state regulators time to have newly hired outside health-insurance actuarial experts analyze Anthem's rates to make sure they don't violate California law.

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