When seeds sprout…

Some back story on the Anthem Blue Cross rate hike story…

From little acorns, mighty oaks grow.

We here at Health Access California do lots of things—we work on bills and regulations, we organize rallies and write blog posts, we send out media releases and talk to reporters, we write policy papers and even have staff meetings. We have a twenty-year record of accomplishment and we keep trying to plant seeds for the future.

2005 was a pretty dark year. The year before, we had just barely lost a major health reform ballot fight. The drug companies were spending $80 million to defeat another ballot initiative we sponsored to give low income uninsured real discounts on drugs. If we had a policy idea, we had few hopes the Governor would sign it. The state budget was not pretty. And there were little chance that anything happy for consumers would happen at the federal level.

But even in what seem dark times we do our job, working on consumer protections big and small.

One of the modest victories we had that year was a bill dealing with the individual insurance market, AB356 authored Assemblymember Wilma Chan, chair of Assembly Health and our champion on hospital charging. We remembered AB356 because it provided a very clear warning to consumers who consider declining their employer coverage or COBRA:

“Please examine your options carefully before declining this coverage. You should be aware that companies selling individual health insurance typically require a review of your medical history that could result in a higher premium or you could be denied coverage entirely.”

(This is true and horrible but lots of real folks have no idea that the real world of health insurance could be that awful. Maybe more do now, given the attention to health reform, but the horrors of the individual market are not widely known for fokls who haven’t been through the issues.)

One of a handful of modest protections enacted in AB356 was a requirement that HMOs and insurers give consumers 30 days notice before increasing their premiums, including the reasons for the increase.

We did not imagine that such notices would yield press coverage, and one day the President of the United States would be highlighting with outrage at the premium increases levied by a health insurer on individual consumers in California—which he knows about and we know about because consumers are now given notice of premium increases as well as the reason offered by the insurer or HMO for the increase.

We just thought it was wrong that insurers could increase premiums for individuals with no notice at all.

We are also mindful that in many other states, consumers still do not get 30 days notice—consumers probably just get a bill with a higher premium with no notice whatsoever and no explanation.

We are looking forward to next week—when Anthem Blue Cross has now cancelled its investor meeting to participate in the hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee—and the hearing by the Assembly Health Committee day before on these increases. It should be an enlightening week.

But it shows that sometimes these small bills for sunshine and disclosure can make a difference. All from the very modest requirement that individual consumers be given 30 days notice before their premiums skyrocket.

And did we mention that we think what Anthem Blue Cross is doing is wrong? There is that, too.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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