Consumer Advocates Reported For Misdemeanors in Clear Case of Selective Enforcement
Sacramento, CA — Speaker Fabian Nunez directed the California
Highway Patrol to prevent an uninsured patient who traveled 3,000 to
speak out against mandatory insurance from telling his story in the
Capitol rotunda Wednesday.
The Massachusetts consumer, Ron Norton, cannot afford to buy
health insurance under his home-state law requiring all residents to
purchase private insurance policies or face financial penalties. He
flew out for a hearing that was cancelled, then was prevented by Núñez
from speaking inside the capitol to the press and was forced to speak
in the 38 degree weather outside. Consumer advocates accompanying
Norton, and releasing poll results critical of Núñez’s mandatory health
purchase plan, were told they were being reported for a misdemeanor for
talking to the press inside the Capitol, though it is a common practice
by lobbyists, and though they complied with the California Highway
Patrol’s order to leave the building.
CHP officers said they had been notified of the news conference and directed to act by the Speaker’s office.
"Speaker Núñez obviously thinks so little of the uninsured that
he is willing to throw them out in the cold rather than have their
voices heard in the Capitol," said consumer advocate Jerry Flanagan,
who was cited with the misdemeanor. "Being ejected from the Capitol for
speaking out about the problems with health care is emblematic of a
debate that has occurred behind closed doors with campaign
contributors. When it’s a crime for the uninsured to speak out in the
Capitol about health care, it’s a sorry sign of a leadership afraid of
ABX1 1, backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly
Speaker Fabian Núñez, requires that consumers prove they have private
health insurance, but does not limit what insurers can charge for
coverage. The bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Health
Committee on January 23. Consumer advocates at the Foundation for
Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) recently wrote to legislators
explaining how the costs to consumers under the Núñez/Schwarzenegger
proposal. Read the letter here.
Norton, an adjunct professor of radiology at Massachusetts
community college who is classified as an "independent contractor,"
does not have insurance from his state employer. He makes about $40,000
a year, too much to qualify for an exemption from the state’s
requirement that individuals buy private insurance policies. But he
can’t afford the high combined premiums and deductibles of the policies
that state is calling "affordable." Norton discussed the
unaffordability of such private insurance, in Massachusetts or under
the proposed California health insurance legislation, for middle-class
Statement of Ron Norton:
"I’m Ron Norton, an adjunct professor of radiology and an
administrator at a Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester,
Massachusetts. But like 66% of our community college teachers, I’m
considered an independent contractor and don’t get health insurance.
"After a few years of making about $21,000, I made closer to
$40,000 last year because I’m also doing an administrative job. Under
the Massachusetts insurance law my family won’t get subsidy because
even though my wife has health insurance with her employer, her income
is counted against my eligibility.
"Her small employer doesn’t offer family insurance. I imagine lots of California families are in the same situation.
"I’m 47 and have no health problems but the cheapest individual
plan available in Massachusetts is $234 a month. That’s 6.8% of my
salary. That "cheap" plan has a $2,000 per person deductible, pushing
the cost up to 12.7% of my gross salary. Even if I bought the policy I
still wouldn’t have affordable health care, and the number of doctors
is very limited.
"I have a daughter, and it gets much worse if I want to insure
her. The cheapest plan for the two of us is $440 a month, $5,280 a
year. That’s 11.6% of my income alone. The cheapest medium-range plan
— without the huge deductibles — is $632 a month, nearly 20% of my
"I think that many people who struggle to buy a policy this
year will find themselves priced out of the market in a year or two as
premiums spiral upward. That’s already started to happen in
Massachusetts, with insurance companies talking about double-digit
"Think about it: families use their savings to pay for the
policy and can’t afford it the next year or the year after, ending up
both uninsured and with no savings. That’s one reason I refuse to use
up my own small savings on mandatory insurance.
"I’ll probably have to quit teaching after this year, even
though I love it, and look for a clinical radiology technician job with
"After a few years of making $21,000 I’m trying to dig out of
a hole. A lot of my students will be in a similar bind, buried in
student debt even if they’re making decent pay.
"We drive old cars and live a frugal life, but I need to pay
for things like auto repairs, household appliances that need to be
replaced and my daughter’s orthodontia.
"Our only family extra is my daughter’s dancing lessons, to
which she’s devoted. That would be the first but not the last thing to
go. It would just crush her.
"All this so insurance companies can make more money.
"If I lived in California I wouldn’t be any better off.
"All of our family income would be counted, and I would have to
insure both myself and my daughter. We wouldn’t be eligible for a tax
credit or any automatic exemptions. The so-called mid-range plan that
the state is considering would cost at least $350 a month, nearly 6% of
our family income. With the $2,500 deductible, it is 7.3% of income.
Plus the limit on out-of-pocket payments is $15,000. It’s what some
people call ‘Mack Truck’ insurance: You’d only use it if you got run
over by a truck.
"I wish our government would stop catering to the private
insurance industry and calling it universal health care. It’s not, and
the biggest victims of this scam are the middle class."
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is
California’s leading public interest watchdog. For more information,
visit us on the web at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.