Campaign to regulate health insurance premiums launched in SF

Consumer Watchdog is making Blue Shield the poster child for health insurance reform in California.

Representatives from Consumer Watchdog and other groups today launched a ballot measure campaign to regulate health insurance rates in California with an event outside the San Francisco headquarters of Blue Shield of California, which is in the process of substantially increasing health premiums for a second consecutive year despite sitting on billions of dollars in cash reserves.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court told us the measure and the campaign to gather the 505,000 valid signatures needed to qualify it for the November ballot would be similar to the group's landmark 1988 campaign to pass Prop. 103, which regulated car insurance rates. That will include an extensive effort to mail petitions directly to voters and seek donations for the efforts, supplemented this time by an e-mail campaign.

“On 103, they got all but 100,000 signatures that way,” Court said, adding, “This is Prop. 103 for health insurance.”

The 800-word measure would require health insurance companies to publicly justify their rate increase requests, make the company CEOs affirm that financial data under penalty of perjury, and make the rate increases subject to approval by California's Insurance Commissioner.

Significantly, the first person to sign the petition was U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who Court told us is co-chairing the campaign. “She has a real passion for the issue,” he said, describing how she was so outraged by a Blue Shield executive's testimony to Congress over its double-digit proposed rate hike last year that she sponsored legislation to regulate health insurance premiums, which was defeated.

Blue Shield is officially a nonprofit company, and Court said its public filings show it has $3.4 billion in reserves, with is about 1400 percent more than the state requires. He also said many Blue Shield customers will be hit with a 15 percent rate hike on March 1, and he cited California Healthcare Foundation figures showing health insurance premiums have increased 153 percent in the last decade, while inflation increased by just 29 percent.

Calls to Blue Shield's press office have not been returned, but I'll update this post if/when they call.


they can only do so at a loss?

I recommend that you read up on earthquake insurance. Insurers have to offer it by law, supposedly, but in reality they don't have to offer it at all because they price you out.

So either you mandate they offer health insurance but you can't control the price. OR you control the price but they don't have to offer it at all.

There's no free lunch, Steven, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise. If we all really wanted universal healthcare, ObamaCare was the best bet. But even Obama with a Democrat-controlled congress couldn't pass that!

Give it up.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

Stunning amounts of money are being made off your need for healthcare -1400% more in reserves than required. My friends are flying to Cuba and Thailand and India for medical treatment- buying drugs in Canada and Mexico-
the current system is indefensible.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

If you can afford to fly to Asia for care, obviously you can afford to pay for healthcare.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2012 @ 2:19 am

pay for the trip and treatment and save thousands of dollars

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2012 @ 6:13 am

Health insurers are making massive profits. Did you read the article? Premiums have gone up 153% in the last decade while the rate of inflation during the same time is 29%. For individual policy holders such as myself it's even worse. Our premiums with Anthem Blue Cross have increased 46% in the last 18 months. We need this regulation or we will be priced out of the market. Eventually we will get sick, go bankrupt and the taxpayers of CA will foot the bill.

We won't give it up.

Posted by alison on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

inflation so your assumption that premium increases are all profit is highly misleading. They're in business to make a profit and nobody forces you to buy their products if you don't like them.

Why isn't your employer providing you with coverage/

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 7:47 am

You unwittingly nailed the problem, Guest, when you said that insurance companies are in it to make money. Bingo. Maybe it's time we turned health care over to someone who's in it to um... provide healthcare?

Nah... that would be too obvious!

And why is it that we seem to feel health care should be tied to employment anyway? Do you not have a right to live if you can't/don't work?

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 8:58 am

Are you going to give me the example of, say, Muni as an alternative?

If health companies were run as non-profits, they'd be full of bureaucrats in cheap suits running things for their own benefit, as we routinely see in the public sector and in Europe.

And why do you think most healthcare innovation is here in the US? Because of the motivation!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 9:53 am

Providing quality healthcare for the low cost of 3 cents on the dollar going to overhead.

I'll take those European bureaucrats in their cheap suits and several years of extra life expectancy, over the nightmare that is for profit health care in America.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

it's not a serious solution for most people.

And it's costs are already spiraling out of control, even though it only covers the very poorest of people.

I think we should scrap medicaid and institute vouchers for private healthcare.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

Medicare provides complete, comprehensive health care, from routine physicals to brain surgery.

It's not just a serious solution, but the only solution for many people. Those who have it fiercely defend their right and strongly oppose any plans to throw them to the dogs of private insurance companies.

Costs are not spiraling out of control. Only 3% goes to overhead, instead of the typical 25-30% of private insurance companies which need to pay for advertising, systems of claims denial, and wasteful bonuses and fat perks for executives.

Medicare covers everyone upon reaching age 65, not just the poorest. You're thinking of Medicaid.

I don't know what planet you've been living on to be so completely, totally misinformed.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

Greg and Alison, he's probably working for a pro-corporate, rightwing trolling co where the trolls are paid to post on progressive message bds.

Notice how he used "Democrat" in his post instead of "Democratic" when referencing the Democratic Party - that must be in the guidebook he follows - and is an indication he's either a hardcore Republican (that's now in the Republican playbk) or working to troll on this message bd for those they support (such as massive profits for health insurance co's).

If he's not such a troll, it is curious that a very liberal progressive newspaper is such a magnet for someone with a political philosophy 180 degrees from that newspaper. Why would he hang out here when expresses a political viewpt more alligned with the US Chamber of Congress? Things that make you go hmmm.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2012 @ 12:09 am

Yeah, Paid Corporate Shill. I figured as much.

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

You think the GOP pay people to post here?

You're insane.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

Perhaps they answered an ad like this one from Craigslist:

"Writers needed to post right-wing comments"

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

high volume and influential blogs like the NYT or Washington Post.

It wouldn't be a loopy, fringe publication like the SFBG with about 12 readers.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

Liar. The average US inflation rate from 1914 through 2010 was 3.38%. Last year the average inflation rate was 3%. That is LESS than normal - not "far higher than normal."

Your whole argument is bunk. Go back to sucking Cigna's dick now.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 9:27 am

much higher than for, say, appliances. New technology and techniques and drugs are invariably inflating at much higher rates. That is why healthcare costs and insurance premia have to rise faster than inflation.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 9:56 am

is partially driven by the increase in premiums - it's a terribly vicious cycle where the profit motive is at fault. Some services cannot and should not be subject to profit as the prime motivator. Healthcare, education and defense are three that come to mind.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

Defense - Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman

Healthcare - Pfizer, Merck, Abbot Labs, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers, Medtronic, HCA, HCN, HCP etc.

Education - Yale, Harvard, Stanford etc

Why do you say those are not private?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

I certainly agree that graduating a 21 year old with the same level of debt many middle aged people carry as a mortgage is very wise policy. But regarding education I was specifically referring to primary, middle school and high school education which is still available free and for the most part NOT privatized.

Socialized medicine works quite well in the many places its practiced - Sweden, France, Canada etc... There you are treated not to make a buck but to make the patient better. In the United States your quality of care is based off of the type of insurance you have and with the recession less and less people are receiving high quality are, particularly preventative care (hopefully the president's program will have an impact in that area).

No state has a privatized armed forces - our armed forces working with private industry is fine and private industry certainly does function based on the profit motive. That's why we have a bloated defense budget with weapons systems we no longer need and overbilling which makes union pensions look like pennies. I don't know if you're arguing that the United States should rely on mercenaries to fight its wars but allowing the desire to make a dollar to be the ultimate determinant in foreign policy is extremely dangerous.

Posted by guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 11:09 am

people in Canada either have to wait forever or end up coming here for care anyway.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

The 10% of us who have to pay for health insurance in the private market (most people get their insurance almost for free through their employer or through Medicare).. about $400 a month for it.

I'm paying $1,315 a month now for myself and two dependents, up from $420 in 2001.

It's got to the point where people with creativity or business drive (I'm an artist) would rather get a 9-to-5 job and work for somebody else than strike on our own.

It is destroying entrepreunerial drive and creativity in the USA.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 7:25 am

why do you expect the rest of us to pony up for you to buy your own?

You chose to be an "artist" rather than get a regular job with benefits. That's your decision so don't try and make it my problem.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 7:46 am

to "choose" a good job with full benefits in this economy. Why, I'm sure there's a line of employers right outside my door. All I need to do is pick the one I like best!

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 8:43 am

worse than having a good, well paid job, Captain Obvious.

Of course life is better when you have a good job. That's what keeps the system running - you can work hard and make money, or slack off and have bad, well, everything.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 9:54 am

I understand that a good job is good. But should you have to die for lack of health care if you're not lucky enough to have one?

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

somebody with billions received worse healthcare, or worse anything, than a broke, jobless, homeless wretch?

Do you think that in England, with socialised medicine, the Queen gets the same healthcare as a homeless woman?

If being poor and jobless didn't carry disadvantages, who would work?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

Of course a billionaire can buy anything he wants. But we can and should provide decent health care to everyone. Whether you live or die shouldn't be tied to whether you can find a job.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

It's not like either is a rarity. It's the norm.

And if there weren't incentives to becoming employed, nobody would choose to do it,

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2012 @ 7:32 am

I'm not expecting you to pony up.

I'm hoping you will understand what a sweet deal you are getting through your employer. As a groveling little company employee yoked to THE MAN, You make your $5 co-pay and get ALL YOU CAN EAT healthcare.

Your employer is getting sick of paying for it, though. You are going to be paying much higher costs in the future.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 7:35 am

Or your employer will have to lay you off when he can't afford to pay for your insurance anymore.

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

private-sector employees although obviously they don't get the unnaffordable sweetheart deals that the public sector does.

And since the subsidies come from all those big, bad corporations, what do you care?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

What do you care? Clearly you got yours so why would you give a damn about anyone else?

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

The idea that we get access to decent healthcare either because we're among the very wealthy top 10% of soceity who can pay for anything our heart desires, or because we can convince some paternalistic employer to give us a job that includes healthcare, says all we need to know about the current system. It's wretched and unsustainable. Hopefully the politicians who support such a wretched system will get an early retirement.

Jobs are rapidly vanishing for large segments of of society, with machines and increased efficiences (ie, ATM's, internet) continuing to eliminate the need for many labor intensive functions. Greece isn't the only country where unemployment among its youth is near 50% and climbing.

Decent healtchcare in a stable society shouldn't be some corporate perk we get just because we're a pleasing employee to "the man." What you're essentially saying is that if I work harder, faster and longer hours than my neighbor, then maybe some kind employer will deem me worthy enough for a job, and only *then* do I get decent healthcare. Poppycock.

Healthcare has no reason to be connected to employment other than it allows the employers to negotiate the benefits and it cuts out the people who actually use the heathcare from the negotiation process. And the current system is another example of how wealthy people use businesses as conduits to receive subsidies and tax write-offs for personal expenses, like heathcare, lavish retirement plans, and $750 a night hotel rooms.

The sooner we remove employers from the healthcare equation, the sooner we'll have a much more efficient and cost-effective healthcare delivery system.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 10:48 am

Health insurers provide no value. They just add to the cost.

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

ensures the best possible deal for consumers.

Invariably the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. Take economics 101 in your local college to learn more. It's been accepted wisdom since Adam Smith.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

Are you suggesting we turn the police department, fire department, parks, highways and public schools over to the private sector so they can profit from them too? Accepted wisdom, hah!

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

publicly regulated industries like utilities, schools, dams and water and sewage systems. Healthcare is not some disposable commodity, but a crucial component of a civil and healthy society.

Besides no one in the US or state government follows Adam Smith, who advocated for high taxes on landlords and the wealthiest merchants. Instead our politicians give us regressive payroll taxes and sales taxes, while real estate investors get massive government tax subsidies every year.

There's a reason the landlord class has benefited from rents increasing 300-500% in the past 20 years, while the bottom 50% of society have seen their economic livelihoods plumment. One major reason is federal, state and local governments who hate working people (but are hypocrites so would never admit this), and who adore landlords and wealthy merchants who have lots of money for campaign contributions and who can provide cushy jobs when they leave political office.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

I do have a job. I'm a creator. I pay my own bills. I'm not a chump sitting at an office desk like you.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

That's what I call being a chump, when you could do the same kind of work and get it 90% paid for.

You want it both ways but the world doesn't work that way.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

Can Prop 103 be considered successful? And what does it mean that Fineswine supports this?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

Sometimes she gets it right. You don't need to read between the lines.

Posted by alison on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

Lack of education (ignorance) is often the source of ill directed hype. I wish those that were so concerned with insurance compay profit would actually come out and talk about what is driving the increased costs. In case you didn't know it's RX, doctor and hospital costs. Both take hits on Medi-cal and Medicare reimbursement and thus pass higher costs on to commercial members who make up the difference for these providers. Besides high RX costs, doc's and hospitals never get the blame for the higher costs but that is exactly what is driving the cost of health insurance. Get real. Tell all the facts and don't parade as a knight in shining armour for the people. Insurance compaines or any company for that fact, needs to make a profit so they can pay employees and contribute back to their community. If a company doesn't make a profit, can you really can it a "company"?
Not making a profit means somebody won't be in business long.

Posted by Guest Brad on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

This is an example of the Great Dianne Feinstein. This proves she can be great when it matters.

Posted by Guest Charley_sf on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 8:43 am

Buy Steven's new book!

Posted by Chromefields on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

80% of Americans basically get free healthcare (company workers and Medicare recipients). You've got all-you-can eat healthcare!! Congratulations! Ask your doctor about Viagara and Lipitor and a couple of anti-depressants, too! Make your $10 co-pay, and all is right in the world.

The problem is that there is no cost-accounting. Nobody is minding the books.

Insurance companies don't care about costs (they raise premiums and get their 5% take).

Hospitals/clinics don't care (they can bill the provider, so ask your doctor about WhateverYouWant; we'll give it to you; We want you pickled on medicine and diagnostics)

Companies don't care (it is all tax deductible!!).

This is why we spend 20% of GDP on healthcare (OECD average is 10%), but we have worse life expectancy, worse infant mortaility, etc. than many other rich countries.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

Right on Barton! You make a great point.

Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist movement has mentioned that as well.

Viva entrepreneurs, we're the true pioneers of our age.

And screw health insurance companies for sapping our GDP like no tomorrow.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

I'm glad you agree. The Economist has been running articles on this subject recently.

Americans are afraid to quit their jobs, afraid to strike out on their own. The aren't moving residences nearly as much as before, either.

They are becoming little drones connected to the company yoke and afriad to start their own businessess---all out of fear of losing health insurance.

Ask YOUR doctor about stupidity.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 11, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

not subject to employment taxes - it is not free. We work for it. In SF I pay 600. for a Kaiser 1500. deductible plan- it just increased 15%-per month. Friends earning under 58,000 annually can enroll in Healthy SF and choose Kaiser for 0-250 per month.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2012 @ 8:34 pm