Will Black Sheep Blue Shield Bring Down American Health Insurance?

01/28/2011 08:03 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones may have just assured Blue Shield its place as the worst health insurance company in America. He's gotten every other health insurance company in California to hold off on rate increases.

A black sheep among black sheep is how Blue Shield and its CEO Bruce Bodaken will be remembered if they don't budge from their pledge to raise rates as much as 59 percent on some Californians on March 1. The drama playing out in California is being watched on the national stage. With consumers ready to turn their pitchforks on Blue Shield, the recalcitrant insurer could become the unwitting hero of a movement to further regulation and restore the public option to the private market in California and states across America.

When Anthem Blue Cross tried to raise rates as much as 39 percent on Californians last year, the outrage gave President Obama the ammunition to pass federal health reform, even though the bill did nothing to stop rate increases.  Now Blue Shield is giving California reformers the ammo to go to the legislature and the ballot box for proposals that give regulators the power to say no to premium increases and to create a public insurance option in California. What starts here will spread.

Only Blue Shield could make Anthem Blue Cross look like a patriot.

Here's what Insurance Commissioner Jones had to say:

I am pleased that Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross and PacifiCare have agreed to my request that they halt the implementation of their rate increases until the Department of Insurance has adequate time to review their recent rate filings. I am very concerned about the impact premium increases will have on policyholders, so I want to ensure that the Department has adequate time to review these rate filings for compliance with the law. Blue Shield policyholders will not have the benefit of this additional review period to ensure compliance with the law, but I will do what is within my power to determine whether Blue Shield’s proposed rates are in compliance with the law and to enforce that law.

The question for Blue Shield is what does it have to hide? Apparently a lot. 

That's why Consumer Watchdog called last week for disclosure about how much Blue Shield CEO Bruce Bodaken makes, why Blue Shield is keeping 12 times the required amount of surplus, and supporting evidence for its claims that medical costs are going through the roof. Every other health insurance company discloses its CEO's salary. Apparently Blue Shield is a strong believer in its exceptionalism.

Where there is smoke there is usually fire. Blue Shield is becoming the poster child for everything we hate about health insurance companies.  It better rethink it's positions and give its customers a break or it may find that its arrogance will be its downfall.

If you are angry, you can join me, betrayed Blue Shield patients and the California Nurses Association leaders at Blue Shield headquarters in San Fransisco next Tuesday for a good old fashioned pitchfork protest.

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 11:00 a.m.
WHERE: Blue Shield San Francisco HQ, 50 Beale St.

Jamie Court is president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progressive's Guide To Raising Hell.