New Attempt at Rate Regulation on Ballot

by David Gorn

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Let the battle begin, again.

One of the most contentious health-related bills before the Legislature in the past two years was a proposal to regulate health insurance rates, AB 52 by Assembly member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles). After it failed to clear the Legislature in September last year, a consumer rights organization decided to take the baton and make it a state initiative.

Almost a full year later, Consumer Watchdog has officially collected 549,380 signatures and the secretary of state on Thursday verified the measure will be on the November, 2014 ballot. Voters now will decide the rate regulation question.

It also means the rhetoric is likely to get more heated than it did in Sacramento at the height of the rate regulation debate.

"We expect a battle royale," said Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog. "We have no doubt that the health insurance industry will throw down tens of millions of dollars to oppose this."

"One group is pushing a concept that's veiled as addressing health care costs, when it's not," said Nicole Evans of the California Association of Health Plans. "Obviously, there is concern and frustration about rising health care costs, and we share it. And we don't think this will do anything at all to bend the cost curve."

The California Medical Association has come out against the rate regulation initiative. It opposed AB 52, as well. U.S. Senate member Dianne Feinstein (California) has endorsed the measure.

Originally, initiative supporters hoped to qualify the measure for the November 2012 election, but it was bumped to the November 2014 election.

There are at least three major differences between AB 52 and the November ballot initiative:

  • The ballot initiative has stronger restrictions than AB 52 did, according to Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog. "It requires that the health insurance industry file requests for rate increases under penalty of perjury," Court said.
  • The initiative gives refund authority to the Department of Insurance if the rate is deemed too high.
  • The ballot measure does not include large-market insurance rates.

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