Consumer advocates upped the ante on premium rate regulation in California on Friday when they delivered petitions signed by 800,000 California voters to a qualify an initiative for the November ballot.
The Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The measure must be certified by June 28 to qualify.
The measure takes one of the most hotly contested bills in years directly to the people after legislative efforts stalled in the final days of the last session.
This one goes further – and it's adamantly opposed by doctors, hospitals, health plans and other business groups because it caps rates without solving the basic problem of rising health care costs.
According to proponents, the initiative would:
· Require health insurance companies to publicly disclose and justify proposed rate changes before they take effect
· Make every document filed by an insurance company to justify a rate increase a public record
· Require public hearings on proposed rate increases
· Give the elected state insurance commissioner authority to reject unjustified rate increases
· Prohibit health, auto and home insurers from considering Californian's credit history or prior insurance coverage when setting premiums or deciding to offer coverage.
"Health insurance premiums in California have increased over the last decade five times faster than inflation because health insurance companies don't have to justify their rates or get approval before rasing rates," Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog – the group backing the measure – said in a news release.
"Our initiative will subject health insurance rates to the same transparency and accountability that already apply to auto insurance and home insurance rates in California. The legislature has refused to act for more than a decade; now it's the voters' turn to decide their own fate."
The health care industry immediately blasted the measure.
"We all agree that controlling health care costs is critical, but this flawed measure will do nothing to address the underlying costs driving health care premiums and will ultimately limit patients' access to care," Don Crane, president and chief executive officer of the California Association of Physician Groups, said in a news release.
A coalition opposing the measure says the initiative would:
· Give one politician, beholden to special interest campaign contributions, too much power over health insurance
· Create an expensive and duplicative state bureaucracy that will be paid for with higher health insurance premiums
· Do nothing to address the underlying costs driving health care premiums and
· Line the pockets of the proponents who created a new loophole allowing then to file more frivolous lawsuits and collect million in fees.
Prepare for a wild and expensive election campaign.