Consumer Watchdog Gets Blown Out on Health Care Propositions 45 and 46

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It's hard to imagine that anyone in California had a worse election night than the folks at Consumer Watchdog. The non-profit advocacy group lost not one but two ballot propositions — seeing both Proposition 45 and 46 go down to defeat by wide margins.

Proposition 45 would have given the insurance commissioner the power to reject excessive rate increases on the Covered California health exchange. With most of the votes counted statewide, it was trailing by 20 points.

Proposition 46 fared even worse. That measure, which would have quadrupled the cap for non-economic damages in malpractice suits, lost by a margin of 35 points.

See also: In California, Consumer Watchdog's Prop 45 Challenges Obamacare — From the Left

Consumer Watchdog led the effort to put both measures on the state ballot. At the group's headquarters in Santa Monica on Tuesday night, the mood was somber.

"We got clobbered by money and money is always a large part of it," said Jamie Court, the president of the organization. 

Insurance companies spent about $57 million to defeat Proposition 45. Consumer Watchdog and its allies raised about $4 million to support it. Had it passed, the measure would have allowed the insurance commissioner to veto rate increases on the Covered California exchange. That raised concerns among supporters of the Affordable Care Act that the measure could interfere with health reform.

Court said that the measure may have been hurt when Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, urged a "no" vote. Opponents also noted that Consumer Watchdog would have profited from the passage of the measure. The initiative included a provision that allowed third parties such as Consumer Watchdog to oppose rate increases, and charge fees if they win.

"Allowing outside intervenors to make millions off of consumers while holding up health care decisions was just one of the fundamental flaws of Prop. 45,” Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said in a No on 45 statement.

At his office, where a small group of supporters ate Subway sandwiches and watched the returns, Court vowed that the issue would not go away.

"This is one battle," he said. "We're gonna keep exposing the profiteering and pushing rate regulation. The insurance companies are gonna keep charging too much."

Proposition 46 would have raised the cap on pain and suffering awards in malpractice cases from $250,000 to $1.1 million. The cap has been in place since 1975. The opposition — which included doctors, hospitals, and malpractice insurers — warned that the measure would raise health care costs. The Consumer Attorneys of California — the trial lawyers' lobbying group — supported the measure, though it was also outspent, about 6-to-1.

Though the measure was defeated by more than 2-to-1, Court said it had succeeded in starting a conversation about raising the cap.

"Things are the way they are for the last 38 years because the entire establishment is averse to change," he said.

The measure would also have required drug testing for doctors.

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