As I predicted two months ago, California voters have been bombarded by a group with a consumer-friendly name warning that a vote for a ballot initiative tomorrow would allow “one politician” to “interfere” with their health care treatment options.
Proposition 45 would not do that, but California’s biggest health insurers have spent $57 million of their customers’ precious premium dollars trying to persuade voters into thinking that it would.
The insurers have been conducting a classic campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt, but, as usual, doing so behind the scenes. They have funneled those millions to a front group called Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, which they hope folks will believe is supported primarily by doctors and nurses and other providers. In reality, approximately 98 percent of the funding has come from five insurers that control the state’s insurance marketplace: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser, Health Net, and UnitedHealthcare.
What Proposition 45 would actually do is give the state’s insurance department the power to reject unreasonable rate increases. California is one of only 15 states where insurance commissioners don’t have that authority.
Insurers want to keep it that way. They really hate it when a state official calls them out on excessive rate hike proposals — because they usually lose.
In 2011, for example, Maine’s commissioner, Mila Kofman, concluded that Anthem Health Plans of Maine’s proposed rate increase of 9.7 percent was excessive. She ruled that Anthem could not justify more than a 5.2 percent increase.
As the Bangor Daily News reported, Kofman found that the insurer’s proposed increase would have resulted in “built-in profits of close to $2 million in the individual market alone.”
Outraged by Kofman’s audacity, the insurer sued her. The case went all the way to the state supreme court, which ruled in February 2012 that Kofman’s decision was appropriate. Anthem had to comply.