Health insurers race to gouge people while they still can


Out here on the pseudo-progressive Left Coast, major private California insurance company Blue Shield announced that healthcare premium hikes of as much as 59% are scheduled to take effect on March 1. A company spokesman told CNN that the gouge increases had "almost nothing to do with the federal health reform law" [emphasis added].


Unfortunately, as CNN noted, "[t]he federal government does not have the authority to review and strike down unreasonable rate increase requests. Historically, that authority lies with individual states. But some states don't have any rate review process at all, and insurers can hike rates as much as they want."


That includes California, where Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has no authority to reject excessive premium increases. "I find it stunning that Blue Shield would seek to impose such massive premium increases on policyholders during these troubling economic times," CNN quoted Jones as saying.


The timing of the extortionate increases is less puzzling, however, when one considers that as of July 1, the recently passed federal health insurance reform legislation means that companies that raise premiums by 10% or more will receive extra scrutiny from both state regulators and the federal government.


"It is absolutely outrageous that regulators in California, and in most [other] states have no power to turn back excessive hikes in health insurance premiums," said Doug Heller, director of the consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. "By jacking up rates, insurers are pushing people off their rolls," Heller said, and actually increasing costs by decreasing the number of people currently paying into the insurance pool.


California already has the largest number of uninsured residents of any U.S. state — about 7 million, or roughly one out of every five people who lives there. And it says something about the economic and political power of corporations that all this is taking place in what is supposedly one of the most liberal / progressive / "socialist" states in the country, with the ninth largest economy in the world, which has had a Democrat-controlled legislature for decades.


It brings new meaning to the phrase "corporate America" ...