California health insurance rates to go up May 1

April 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Health insurance rates are going up for millions of Californians on May 1. For some, it's the third increase in two years and it's forcing some people to make difficult choices. ABC30 takes a look at what is driving rates higher and what the state is trying to do to stop it.

"Oh, they've been dramatic over the last several years," said Tama Greenberg.

Greenberg is a San Francisco resident who is frustrated over yet another rate increase on her health insurance policy. This time, the Anthem Blue Cross customer's premium jumps almost 20 percent on May 1st, bringing her monthly payment to $635.

A million other Californians and small business owners who buy their own insurance through HealthNet, United Healthcare, and Anthem Blue Cross are also affected. For many this is the third hike in two years.

"It's sure getting to be almost a huge percentage of my income just for the health insurance alone," said Greenberg.

The California Association of Health Plans says with 85 percent of premiums going directly to medical care, "New drugs and medical technology, increasing rates of chronic disease and underpayment from government programs like Medi-Cal are some of the biggest cost drivers."

The California Insurance Commissioner already has the power to reject rate hikes for car and homeowners insurance, but not for health plans.

"We're seeing each carrier raise rates year after year generally higher than the increase in medical costs and utilization and the public is fed up," said California's Deputy Insurance Commissioner Janice Rocco.

The Legislature is trying once again to pass a bill to give the Insurance Commissioner more power over health insurance rate hikes, but just in case that fails, Consumer Watchdog is circulating an initiative to let voters decide on the November ballot.

But opponents of both proposals say it's not a good idea to give such power to one politician and they fear insurers will just cut benefits to keep profits high.

While some Californians are thinking of dropping their health insurance with this rate increase, Greenberg questions whether it's even worth having this coverage.

"I get afraid that if I use it too much, they will increase my rate even more or drop me, which is probably the biggest fear that most self-employed people have," said Greenberg.


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