The fight over California Assembly Bill 52 is already shaping up to be hard-fought, bitter and emotional on both sides, pitting consumer, labor, small business and health care advocacy groups against the California Chamber of Commerce and hospital, physician and health insurance associations. Although the California Department of Insurance has the power to review health insurance rate hikes, Assembley Bill 52 would give the state the authority to approve, deny or modify excessive health insurance rate hikes (much as regulators do now with auto insurance).
What’s at stake?
Both sides sympathize with Californians caught in the squeeze of high premiums. Dolores Duran-Flores of the California School Employees Association, for example, told lawmakers of a colleague in her union, a single mother of two teenage sons, whose rate hikes prompted a moral dilemma.
“Her premiums increased so much that she could no longer afford family coverage and still feed and house her family, so she had to choose which son to cover,” Duran-Flores said.
“But she ‘chose’ the wrong one. Weeks after making that change and dropping the one son, he was in an auto accident. Now she is facing bankruptcy as a result of the medical debt,” Duran-Flores said.
Health insurance premiums in California have risen 134 percent since 2002, more than five times the overall rate of inflation, according to a 2010 statewide survey of employers cited in an analysis of AB 52 by the Senate Health Committee.
Annual premiums averaged $14,396 for family coverage and $5,463 for individuals last year, the analysis said.
Thirty-five states, including Oregon, already require some form of health insurance rate approval by state regulators. Should California join them?
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