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Patient and Consumer Initiatives Will Save Lives and Money

5:13 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Originally published in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, January 12, 2014


Jamie CourtNo political consultant sees more angles than Richie Ross, but his tangent opposing two pro-consumer ballot initiatives, which could turn 2014 into the Year of the Patient, is unsound geometry (“Voters can’t avoid health care politics,” Jan. 2). The ballot measures will save lives and money by closing fatal loopholes in Obamacare and California’s patient-safety laws.

The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to buy insurance but does not limit its cost. The “Justify Rates” ballot initiative before voters in November requires California health insurers to justify rate hikes and get approval before they take effect, as now happens in 35 other states.

The millions of individual policyholders and tens of thousands of businesses whose rates could not go up without state approval under the measure are those who have been hardest hit by premium increases over the past decade.

The ballot measure applies California’s tough property casualty insurance regulation, enacted by voters in 1988 as Proposition 103, to health insurance. A recent study by the Consumer Federation of America found the law has saved California drivers $102 billion. Drivers today pay less in real money than they did in 1988, the only state to see any decline.

The same tough rate regulation already applies to medical-malpractice insurance for physicians and hospitals, including that paid for by private clinics.

Consumer Watchdog has used the law’s protections to lower medical-malpractice insurance premiums by $77 million over the past decade. Ironically, doctors enjoy the protection that millions of Californians who pay for health insurance don’t yet have.

That’s why arguments that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, now circulating, will raise malpractice rates are phony.

This ballot measure will save lives by curbing substance abuse by doctors, stemming the tide of overprescribing, and updating a 38-year-old cap on victims’ recovery that prevents injured patients from getting justice.

The California Medical Board estimates that 18 percent of doctors have a drug or alcohol problem during their careers. Mandatory drug testing, as now applies to most other public safety professions, will prevent dangerous doctors from practicing. Updating our medical-malpractice laws will allow victims of drugged, drunk and dangerous doctors to get justice.

One quarter of all medical discipline in the state involves abuse of drugs or alcohol. The Pack Patient Safety Act will protect the victims of this abuse and their families from the third leading cause of death in America: medical malpractice.


Jamie Court, proponent of the initiative requiring public justification of health insurance rates, is president of Consumer Watchdog. Carmen Balber is the nonprofit group’s executive director.

I Support Planned Parenthood, Why Isn’t Planned Parenthood Supporting Women?

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Planned ParenthoodFifteen women and mothers whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence wrote to the CEOs of Planned Parenthood today asking them to reverse a position that is devastating to women’s health and access to justice in California. The letter asked the CEOs to reverse their position on a proposed ballot measure to change a law that has discriminated against women for the last 38 years.

Read the letter here.

“We are women whose lives have been shattered by medical negligence,” they wrote. “We take issue with Planned Parenthood’s leading role in opposition to ‘The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act,’ a pending California ballot measure that would simply update for inflation the state’s 38 year old cap on compensation in medical malpractice cases. The outdated cap is unfair to many who have suffered medical harm, regardless of gender. But it has a disproportionate impact on women.”

“Planned Parenthood’s opposition to the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is against the interests of women in this state – your core constituency. The unfair, antiquated and sexist cap perpetuates an injustice against women that must be remedied. As a group that has been so deeply impacted by medical negligence and this outdated law, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in hopes you will reconsider your position on the ballot measure and support a reasonable index of the cap for inflation to bring California’s patient safety laws and women’s access to justice into the 21st century.”

Read more about the medical negligence suffered by the 15 women and their families here.

The letter explained how the limits on patients’ legal rights in medical negligence cases particularly harms women.

“In much the same way that the glass ceiling continues to undercut the income of working women, the malpractice cap on noneconomic damages means compensation for those harmed by medical negligence is largely determined by the income of the person who was injured. The calculus is simple and sexist.”

“A stay-at-home parent with no income or a parent who works only part-time to be able to spend more time with the children will be treated very differently under the cap than someone who is working full-time at a high-paying job.”

“A woman whose child was killed by medical negligence, or who lost her ability to have children due to medical negligence, or who underwent an unnecessary mastectomy due to medical negligence, is not likely to lose income. But she has clearly suffered a grievous injury. Her compensation for her loss is limited to an amount below what anyone would consider fair in 2013.”

Planned Parenthood is usually a champion for women’s rights, so their backwards position on this issue is particularly stunning. Luckily, there’s still time before the initiative reaches the ballot for the leaders of Planned Parenthood to listen to the women of California and recant.

Read the rest of this entry →

Proposed Anthem Blue Cross Rate Hike Could Mean Future Refund Checks for Consumers

1:39 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

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Anthem Blue Cross could owe big refund checks to 730,000 Californians if its proposed rate hikes of up to 25% are deemed excessive thanks to an initiative voters will consider on the 2014 ballot.

The ballot measure requires health insurance companies to get approval before raising rates and allows that refunds be ordered on rates that are considered excessive after November 6, 2012. When voters approve the measure, the insurance commissioner will have the power to retroactively order refunds for excessive rates.

Read the initiative here

“Anthem and every health insurance company in California are on notice: Excessive rate hikes they impose today could mean big refund checks for consumers down the road,” said Carmen Balber with Consumer Watchdog.

Anthem has proposed rate hikes averaging 18%, and as high as 25%, for 630,000 individual policyholders.

It has proposed rate hikes averaging 15%, and as high as 25%, for another 100,000 individual policyholders.

The Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act qualified for the ballot in August, after Consumer Watchdog Campaign and allies submitted petitions containing 800,000 voter signatures.

“Californians can no longer afford the outrageous double-digit rate hikes health insurance companies like Anthem have imposed year after year, and sometimes multiple times a year, ” said Jamie Court, proponent of the ballot measure and president of Consumer Watchdog. “This initiative gives voters the chance to take control of health insurance prices by forcing health insurance companies to publicly open their books and justify rates, under penalty of perjury.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the first person to sign the ballot petition, is an honorary co-chair of the ballot initiative campaign, which is also supported by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

The ballot initiative builds on California’s successful model of rate regulation for auto, home and other property and business insurance. That law, Proposition 103, was enacted by the voters in 1988 and has saved California drivers $62 billion since it was enacted.

The Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act:

  • Requires health insurance companies to publicly disclose and justify, under penalty of perjury, proposed rate changes before they take effect.
  • Makes every document filed by an insurance company to justify a rate increase a public record.
  • Requires public hearings on proposed rate increases.
  • Gives Californians the right to challenge excessive and unfair premium rate increases.
  • Prohibits health, auto and home insurers from considering Californians’ credit history or prior insurance coverage when setting premiums or deciding whether to offer coverage.
  • Gives the elected insurance commissioner authority to reject unjustified rate increases.