Valerie Burchfield-Rhodes – Laguna Niguel, CA (Orange County)

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After several nervous weeks of waiting for the news to come, it arrived in the mail. Our annual renewal notice for our health insurance from Anthem Blue Cross. Our premiums are set to jump another 19% beginning June 1st. This is on the heels of our premium increase last year of 36%. We have now seen our premiums jump from $1,053 to $1,708 per month for our family of four – a rate hike of more than 62%. And this is for a plan with the highest deductible available of $7,000 a year. Between our monthly premiums and our annual deductible, our yearly cost will be more than $27,000 – and that’s before copays are factored in when we see our doctors.

I have called our insurance company and the insurance commissioner, contacted legislators, signed petitions and written letters to the editor in response to this situation. One of the challenges is that no one can hold health insurance companies accountable in California, because we don’t allow our insurance regulators to reject or modify insurance rates when they are unreasonable, even unjustifiable.

According to the California HealthCare Foundation, health insurance premiums in California increased at a pace five times the rate of inflation in the last decade.

Health insurance companies are among California’s biggest-spending corporate lobbyists, and they work hard at swatting down attempts to bring California in line with the 35 other states that do have the power to regulate rates. Why, for instance, are California insurance companies allowed to keep raising our premiums to add to profit-making “reserves” in the billions of dollars, in some cases more than 1,000 percent of what the state requires? Why do we have to pay premiums for multimillion-dollar executive salaries and corporate lobbyists, while millions of individuals are priced out of the insurance market altogether?

Those opposed to regulation talk about how government should get out of the way of business and let the free market work. They claim that healthcare coverage is available if you “just look hard enough.” Those claims are not based in reality. When a job change resulted in the loss of our employer-provided insurance, our family had to shop for insurance on the private market. It was nearly impossible to get a policy at all.

My husband and I, and our two kids are relatively healthy but every private insurer we applied to denied each of us coverage due to “pre-existing conditions.”

In one case, the denial of service was due to my child’s “pre-existing condition” of acne treatment. We finally got an Anthem Blue Cross small business plan through my husband’s business association.

The spiraling costs of maintaining healthcare coverage is crushing to small business owners and the self-employed, a chief engine for economic recovery here in our state. Without reasonable controls on these exorbitant rate hikes, average families like ours will increasingly be priced out of the insurance market.

That’s the reason I’m supporting a November ballot initiative proposed by the Consumer Watchdog group. The “Justify Rates” ballot measure would make insurance companies publicly justify insurance rate hikes before they go into effect for millions of Californians, and help make insurance more affordable for the other millions who have had to cancel their policies or could never afford coverage in the first place. The Consumer Watchdog initiative would allow the insurance commissioner to reject or modify unjustified rates, while still allowing companies a reasonable profit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently that 1 in 5 Americans are burdened by medical debt and half of them are unable to pay the debt at all. This has catastrophic effects on families and communities and, in the long run, costs us all. If you agree this is unacceptable, more information on the “Justify Rates” initiative is available at

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