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Timing is everything. Recent announcements by health insurers of rate increases have given Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones a media platform to kick off his pro-consumer agenda for the department of insurance.
On Tuesday of this week, Jones sent a letter to three more of California's largest health insurance carriers - Anthem Blue Cross, Pacificare, and Aetna calling on them to refrain from increasing premiums for at least sixty days beyond the effective dates of their most recent rate filings with the California Department of Insurance. Last week, Commissioner Jones sent a similar letter to Blue Shield after thousands of California policyholders were notified of significant and impending rate increases, with some reaching as high as 59 percent.
"The state's largest health insurers have submitted multiple premium increases for early 2011, and I am very concerned about the impact these increases will have on policyholders, especially since I have not had sufficient time to review these filings," Commissioner Jones said in a press statement released this week. "These premium increases come at a time when Californians and their families are struggling to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression."
On Pasadena based KPCC-FM radio's program AirTalk Thursday, Jones said he regretted that Proposition 103 did not give him the authority to regulate health insurance premiums. Jones said he has been fighting for the last six years as a member of the legislature to get give more authority to state's insurance commissioner, the job he now holds.
However, Jones said thanks to regulation implemented by former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi in 2007, 70 cents on every dollar has to be spent on providing health care. He added that the federal affordable care act has raised the standard nationally to 80 cents, or 80 precent. Jones said that just minutes after he was sworn in, he issued an emergency regulation giving him the authority to enforce the 80 cents on a dollar requirement in California.
Jones has also asked insurers for a delay in the implementation of their plans, so he can review the proposed increases for compliance recently enacted SB 1163 which requires health plans and insurers to provide detailed actuarial information regarding premium increases.
Jones said he does not yet have the authority to reject rate increases he would deem excessive, but he hopes to gain through legislation AB 52 being proposed by Assemblyman Mike Feurer (D-Los Angeles).