Starting this week one million Californians will pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for their health insurance. It's a plot right out of Groundhog Day, only it happens every Spring, Winter, Summer and Fall.
Health insurance rates in California are like a runaway train and there's no police force or firefighting squad with the power to stop them. Thirty five states require health insurance companies to get permission before raising rates, but not California.
So Hollywood's fighting back with a short movie trailer preview of an alternative future. This short preview is of the impact of a real ballot proposal -- which only needs another two hundred thousand signatures to qualify for the November ballot. With enough signatures, Californians can then decide their own fate and stop outrageous rate hikes.
In Studio City, Calif. a self-employed, single mom watched her health insurance premium triple over the last decade. On May 1 the price climbed by 16 percent. She asks, "If I have to get pre-approval from my insurance company every time I want my health care paid for, shouldn't they have to get approval when they want me to pay more?"
For a decade the legislature has answered no, following the health insurance industries' line that the market and federal health care reform can be trusted to moderate rates. Tell that to the million Californians hit with rate hikes on May 1.
Over the last decade health insurance premiums have shot up 153 percent -- growing five times the rate of inflation (29 percent). Four companies, including Anthem Blue Cross, control 71 percent of the health insurance market -- competition isn't in the cards. As a result, Californians don't just move to cheaper plans, they also drop insurance. California has one of the nation's highest uninsured rates.
Since 2003, the California legislature has refused to pass a law requiring that health insurance companies get approval before raising rates in the same way that auto insurance and home insurance companies have to today. That's why consumer advocates like myself have joined with Senator Dianne Feinstein and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones to qualify the ballot measure that requires health insurance companies to live up to the same standards as other insurance companies.
More than 600,000 voters have signed our petition to make health insurance companies publicly justify their rates, as we rush toward the deadline to qualify for the November ballot. The preview of different future isn't just a Hollywood story. It's within our sights if 200,000 more Californians sign our ballot measure in the next two weeks.
Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog and the proponent of the proposed ballot measure, the Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act, being circulated at www.JustifyRates.org.
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