Will Patients Beat Blue Shield Again… This Time With the First Online Ballot Petition?

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Shouldn't the CEOs of health insurance companies like Blue Shield have to sign under penalty of perjury that their rate hikes are justified? If the first online signature gathering for a ballot petition is successful, Californians will vote on that proposition in November, and are almost sure to approve.

One year ago I stood at the Blue Shield headquarters in San Francisco with hundreds of patients and nurses angry at the health insurance company's planned rate increases of as much as 86% for some policyholders. The outrage and spotlight were too much for the insurance company and Blue Shield backed down from the hikes that very morning.

Today I am returning to the scene with a group of patients, who again face double-digit premium hikes from Blue Shield. Guilt and shame only go so far for health insurance companies. That's why the patients will be signing a ballot petition this morning to force Blue Shield and other health insurance companies in California to publicly justify their rates, under penalty of perjury, and get approval before any rate hikes take effect. In California, health insurance companies can now raise rates at will.

If Consumer Watchdog Campaign collects 505,000 signatures from the online ballot petition at JustifyRates.org, Californians can vote to require insurance companies to get approval before raising rates. That's a proposal California's legislature has failed to approve for the last half decade.

The health insurance rate regulation signature gathering effort is one of the first online volunteer efforts ever. Registered voters can print the short petition, sign it and return it at JustifyRates.org The experiment in on-line all volunteer signature gathering – combining email with a US mail roll-out of petitions – could change the balance of power in California's health insurance industry. It's attracted the attention and support of US Senator Diane Feinstein, who is emailing registered voters in California to seek their signatures online at JustifyRates.org

What's particularly outrageous is Blue Shield, purportedly a nonprofit insurance company, is making more money than it knows what to do with. Blue Shield has $3.1 billion in excess surplus, 1400% more than the state requires, but still plans to raise rates on more than 200,000 policyholders. The problem is that unless our ballot initiative passes, Blue Shield does not have to ask permission to raise rates in California. Insurance companies can raise rates at will, whether California's insurance commissioner approves them or not.

Health insurance premiums in California have gone up 153% in the last decade, while inflation rose just 29%, according to the California HealthCare Foundation. 35 states have the power to reject unjustified health insurance rate increases but California does not.

Health insurance companies like Blue Shield will continue to sit on billions in cash while raising rates if they and their CEOs are not accountable to the public. Registered California voters can make them accountable at JustifyRates.org with a one page official ballot petition and a US postage stamp to mail it back.

Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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