Backers of Rate Regulation Aren’t Satisfied with Health Exchange

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President Obama singled out California last week for getting better-than-expected rates in its rollout of the health insurance overhaul for millions of consumers.

Yet some Obamacare supporters say those premiums are still too high, and they are continuing to push for a California ballot measure to regulate health insurance rates.

Last month, Covered California, the state agency implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, announced the health insurers and proposed rates for individual customers in the state-run exchange.

"In many cases, the networks are too limited and the prices are too high in the exchange," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica advocacy group. "Covered California doesn't take the place of a government agency that has the power to force justification of the rates or deny them."

Consumer Watchdog is campaigning for a November 2014 ballot measure that would grant the California Department of Insurance the power to approve or deny increases in health insurance premiums.

Insurers, doctors and business groups oppose the measure, saying it would create a costly new bureaucracy and give the insurance commissioner too much control over healthcare coverage and prices.

Quiz: How much do you know about healthcare?

Supporters say the health-insurance initiative would be a natural extension of Proposition 103, which enacted rate controls on auto and property insurance in 1988.

New data compiled by Robert Hunter, former Texas insurance commissioner and director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, indicate that rate regulation of auto insurance has benefited California motorists.

From 1989 to 2010, the most recent data available, the average annual premium for auto insurance in California was essentially flat at $745.74, down from $747.97 in 1989. For the same period nationwide, the average auto premium rose 43% to $791.22.

"I'm sure there were other factors at play, but the biggest factor was the effectiveness of Prop. 103 in California," Hunter said.

Meantime, health insurance rates have kept climbing. Premiums for employer health insurance in California jumped 170% over the last decade, more than five times the 32% increase in the state's inflation rate, according to the California HealthCare Foundation.

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