Latino voters in California find themselves in the middle of one of the most important – in terms of immediate, real-world consequences – races of the 2014 elections.
Actually, it’s two races.
The first is for the unknown, but strangely powerful position of state insurance commissioner, between incumbent Democrat Dave Jones and Republican State Senator Ted Gaines.
But more important is the ongoing debate over Proposition 45, which would give the commissioner jurisdiction over certain types of health insurance coverage – including that provided by Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace which has about 1.3 million people enrolled.
The stated intent of Prop. 45 is to protect consumers from overcharges by medical insurance companies by allowing the commissioner the power to stop them from increasing premiums if they are deemed excessive, inadequate or “unfairly discriminatory.”
Jones is in favor of the measure, while Gaines opposes it.
It's estimated that Prop. 45 would affect about 16 percent of Californians, or the 6 million people who are insured by Covered California or in small-group plans through companies with fewer than 50 employees.
More than one third of those affected would be Latinos.
Proponents of Prop. 45 say it’ll stop health insurance companies from taking advantage of people, saving consumers about $200 million a year.
But the measure has brought together an unlikely alliance of opponents – including doctors, Latino medical groups, insurance companies and newspaper editorial writers.
Insurance companies have injected nearly all of the money spent on advertising to defeat Proposition 45.
Which has become an issue in and of itself.
Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit group that put Prop. 45 on the ballot, is pushing the bill with the support of the California Nurses Association. New ads out this week suggest that Prop. 45 must be good if the insurance companies are fighting against it.
“When did health insurance companies ever spend $55 million against a ballot measure to protect you?" one new radio spot says.
Under the Affordable Care Act, an independent commission already negotiates premiums and healthcare plans with insurance companies to control costs and expand coverage.
The ballot measure would allow any individual to contest a rate hike, which would then go before the commissioner to resolve.
“Prop. 45 gives one politician too much power over healthcare and their primary role will be to control cost. There is no focus on ensuring quality healthcare,” Dr. Efrain Talamentes, a member of Latino Physicians of California, an organization that opposes the initiative, told Fox News Latino. “Prop.45 does nothing to meet the needs of our patients and instead creates another hurdle for us to take care of them.”
Consumer Watchdog is the same group that got Proposition 103 passed in 1988 which gave the insurance commissioner the power to approve auto and home insurance rate hikes. Californians were spared an estimated $102 billion in auto insurance costs, the group argues.
But Dr. Robert Peterson, the director of the Center for Insurance Law and Regulation, told FNL that Consumer Watchdog isn’t entirely a white knight in the process.
The provisions of Prop.45 “allows ‘any person’ to intervene in a rate filing,” Peterson told FNL. If Consumer Watchdog makes a substantial contribution to an intervention in an insurance hike, he said, “They can bill their time to the insurance commissioner.”
And in auto and home insurance hikes, he pointed out, Consumer Watchdog “intervenes quite a bit.”
That system of intervention and commissioner resolution, Peterson said, “worked fine for homeowner and auto [insurance] because no one wants to destroy homeowner and auto. But there are a whole lot of people who want to destroy the Affordable Care Act."
He explained, "Proposition 45 opens the door for people to intervene and drag the whole process out, and there are some pretty strict deadlines with respect to the ACA."
His point echoes a Los Angeles Times editorial endorsing a no on Prop. 45 vote.
“Covered California should be given the chance to fulfill its mission to the best of its ability before the state adds another layer of complexity to an already complex process,” the Times editorial read.