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Editorial: Health insurance Rate Hikes Show Need For Cost Reforms

VENTURA COUNTY STAR
http://www.vcstar.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-health-insurance-rate-hikes-show-need-for-cost-reforms-38a65151-53fc-06d2-e053-0100007f7fa--388589261.html

The two largest insurers in the Covered California health insurance exchange are jacking up their monthly premiums by 17 and 20 percent next year.

The news was appalling, but it should not have been surprising.

And all of us should remember that there is nothing we can do about that, even though we once had a chance to place controls over those rates.

Anthem Blue Cross has told the state it is going to increase its premiums by 17 percent next year, while Blue Shield is seeking a 20 percent increase. The insurers explain their unconscionable rate hikes by saying fewer people are signing up for the exchanges, those who do are using more health care services than anticipated, and prescription drugs are continuing to increase in cost.

About 5 percent of Californians are covered in the insurance exchanges. Almost all of them qualify for federal subsidies that will offset some of that premium increase.

The state insurance commissioner can declare the rate hikes unreasonable but cannot do anything to actually prevent them.

We had a chance two years ago to give the commissioner the power to actually deal with issues like this, but only 41 percent of California voters supported Proposition 45 in the 2014 election.

That proposition would have given the state insurance commissioner the power to reject excessive health care insurance rate increases. It also would have required insurance companies to publicly disclose their rates and their justifications for proposed premium increases.

It basically would have done for health insurance what California voters did for auto and home insurance way back in 1988 by approving Proposition 103. That measure gave the insurance commissioner the authority to approve auto and home insurance rates before they went into effect and defined the criteria for setting those rates.

It should not be surprising that we voted down Prop. 45. We were told to vote no over and over and over again, through a barrage of campaign messages on TV and in our mailboxes.

The insurance industry spent almost $57 million to fight it. Supporters could cobble together only $6 million to promote it.

The result is that we now have another concrete example of the costs of health care running amok.

We remain solid supporters of the Affordable Care Act, which created these health care exchanges. We now have a system in place that allows every American to be eligible for health insurance regardless of their current health condition or income or status. That is a remarkable achievement.

But what the act avoided dealing with, and what our political leaders continue to avoid dealing with, is the cost of health care.

We would support legislative action to do what Proposition 45 tried to do in regulating the rate-setting of health care insurance in California. But that simply would be a regulatory bandage that would not heal the patient.

Health care costs are out of control. They must be contained to keep our economy growing.

We would like to see a thorough and robust debate of this issue during the fall election campaign. But we do not expect that to happen in the current political climate.