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Consumer group pushes health insurance regulation

A consumer group is trying for a health-insurance initiative on the November ballot to prevent unregulated rate hikes.

March 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Have you noticed your health insurance premiums going up for you and your family? In the last decade health insurance rates in California have gone up 153 percent, and there are no regulations to stop them. A consumer group is trying to get an initiative on the November ballot to change that, and it could be quite a battle.

Altadena resident Susan Braig no longer has health insurance, even though she had cancer. She just can't afford it after her premiums nearly tripled in the last few years, and that's for the most basic coverage. Now she relies on her doctor's generosity for some of her care.

"But he no longer takes my blood to check for tumor markers because I can't afford those lab tests," said Braig.

Unlike automobile insurance rates, which are regulated in California, there is no such regulation for health insurance.

"We have four insurance companies that control 71 percent of the health insurance market," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "There is no competition. Consumers need new powers. And what the ballot initiative does is give the insurance commissioner the power to say 'no' to unnecessary rate hikes."

The group Consumer Watchdog is pushing a petition to put an initiative on California's November ballot that would prevent excessive health insurance rate increases. The first person to sign the petition was Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

"I have seen these big companies raise premium rates maybe twice a year and in some occasions even more than that," said Feinstein. "There is no transparency, there is nothing that can currently be done about it."

The insurance industry is not commenting, but Dr. Paul Phinney, spokesman for the California Medical Association, believes healthcare could suffer if this initiative gets on the ballot and passes.

"What I see happening is the creation of a huge bureaucracy in which case rate increases would generate public hearings and tremendous amount of red tape, all of which would be paid for by the health industry, pulling money out of healthcare and, again, into the hands of the consumer attorneys," said Phinney.

Susan Braig signed the petition and says getting the measure passed could mean having health insurance once again.

"I just live day to day and I hope I don't get sick," said Braig.

Consumer Watchdog needs 505,000 signatures and they're asking consumers to go online, print the petition, sign it and then send it in.