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San Francisco, CA – Just as Blue Shield policyholders, nurses and consumer advocates arrived at Blue Shield's San Francisco headquarters today, the company announced it would delay its massive rate hikes by 60 days. Previously, the company had refused Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones' request for a delay, even as several other insurers agreed to a temporary reprieve.

Hundreds of nurses and patients protested outside of Blue Shield holding signs declaring: "Shame On You" and chanting "Steal The Shield, Crush The Snake" as the company barricaded its headquarters. Joining the California Nurses Association and Consumer Watchdog were Blue Shield policyholders Patrick Killelea and Kerry Abukhalaf who provided personal perspectives on the impact of Blue Shield's hikes. Killelea explained: "There is no market for health insurance. Your choices are: 1. Pay whatever they say. 2. Die."

The groups applauded Commissioner Jones for securing the delay, pointing out the real savings from two additional months before the hikes take effect. The groups said, however, that the delay does not solve the problem of out of control rates and that they will continue to challenge Blue Shield until there are real reforms in California.

California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said: "We can do more to crack down on these renegade and heartless insurers, but we'll never have real health reform until we have guaranteed healthcare for all and a more cost efficient, humane system by expanding Medicare to cover everyone."   

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said: "Blue Shield delayed the rate hikes today when protesters showed up at their doorsteps. But they can raise rates in 60 days or any day after until we have tough laws that let regulators stop them and give consumers a public option to the private market."

Consumer Watchdog called on California lawmakers to enact AB 52 (Feuer), which would authorize the commissioner to review rate hikes and reject excessive increases before they take effect.

In a letter sent to Blue Shield CEO Bruce Bodaken on January 20th, Consumer Watchdog called on the insurer to make key data about the company and its rate hike publicly available. A full copy of the letter is available here [ http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/bs_letter012011.pdf ].

Unlike most other insurers that are either public companies or traditional nonprofit organizations, Blue Shield's corporate practices are largely hidden from public scrutiny because of its status as a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation. Consumer Watchdog also asked Blue Shield CEO Bodaken to disclose his annual salary as is done for all other major health insurance executives in California. Blue Shield has yet to respond to Consumer Watchdog's requests.

At today's rally outside of Blue Shield's headquarters, Jamie Court displayed a blank check [ http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=489961973246&set=a.79659553246.78407.18642913246 ] to CEO Boadaken.

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Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with offices in California and Washington, DC.