California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has done yeoman duty exposing excessive health insurance premiums — and pressing for legislation boosting state and federal authority to deny, modify or block "excessive, unjustified, or unfairly discriminatory" rate increases.
This is not about capping premiums or imposing price controls. Still, the health insurance industry is fighting rate regulation, all beak and talons, biting and scratching. At the federal level, insurers argue that insurance regulation is a state activity. But now that states are acting, they argue that the federal government has taken care of things.
Action is needed at the state and federal levels.
Thirty-three states require prior approval of health insurance rates. California is not one of them. This state's insurance commissioner may only ask insurers, pretty please with sugar on top, to delay or reduce proposed premium increases. The result is isolated, informal action.
Remember Anthem Blue Cross, the WellPoint subsidiary? It became infamous early last year for sending notices to 800,000 Californians, announcing rate increases of up to 39 percent. After an independent analysis found "numerous and substantial errors," Anthem backed off – temporarily.
Finally, the company reduced the average rate increase to 9.1 percent for 600,000 policyholders, and delayed it until July 1. But nearly 151,000 individual policyholders still face rate hikes of as much as 26 percent on May 1.
Consumers deserve better than sporadic action that ultimately relies on the whim of the insurer.
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