Initiative aims to regulate insurance rates in CA

February 21, 2012 7:37:55 PM PST
An effort underway in California to qualify a ballot initiative to regulate insurance rates is shaping up to be a huge battle.

If this becomes law, California would join more than 30 other states by regulating the premiums charged for health insurance. Now, this would only regulate individual policies, not the health insurance you get through your workplace. Still, 800,000 Californians would be covered and emotions are running high.

Marti Conger of Benicia has a $5,000 deductible and her health insurance costs still sting. "In 2005, I was paying $191 per month. The new rate increase in March, $661. That's a 346 percent increase in my rates since 2005," she said.

That is why she is signing a petition that would regulate the cost of individual health care policies in California. She says it isn't just about the money, it is also about family.

"My husband is 78 years old. He has been working since he was nine. The reason he is still working full time now is to help me pay for my health insurance and my health care, and to keep us afloat," she said. "It is not fair."

The petition to put the initiative on the ballot is being pushed by Consumer Watchdog. The group that passed Prop 103, the initiative regulating car insurance rates in California.

"We have four insurance companies that control 71 percent of the health insurance market," Jamie Court explained. "There is no competition. Consumers need new powers. And what the ballot imitative does is give the insurance commissioner the power to say no to unnecessary rate hikes."

"I am a doctor, not an interest group. I think this is going to harm my patients," Dr. Paul Phinney said.

As president elect of the California Medical Association, Phinney is concerned that his patients could end up with less care if this initiative gets on the ballot and passes.

"What I see happening is the creation of a huge bureaucracy in which case rate increases would generate public hearings and tremendous amount of red tape, all of which would be paid for by the health industry, pulling money out of health care and again into the hands of the consumer attorneys who would be managing all this work," he said.

Senator Diane Feinstein says, "Nonsense, baloney." She was the very first person to sign the petition and says the problem is not with attorneys, but with escalating rate increases for individual policyholders.

"I am very passionate about it. This is not a new thing with me," she said. "I have seen these big companies raise premium rates maybe twice a year and in some occasions, even more than that. There is no transparency. There is nothing that can currently be done about it. And, they make record profits."

An interesting aside to this, Consumer Watchdog is attempting to get the 505,000 signatures need to get the initiative on the ballot without streetcorner signature gatherers. Instead they are sending out letters and asking consumers to go online, print a petition, sign it and send it in. If this works it will be a first.

The insurance industry is not saying much. 7 On Your Side asked for comment, but was referred to the Medical Association.


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