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Health insurance rates surged this year in California, official says

California health insurance costs skyrocketed, commissioner says
Health insurance up as much as 88% this year in California, commissioner says

The cost of health insurance for individuals skyrocketed this year in California, with some paying almost twice what they did last year, the state's insurance commissioner said.

But Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones predicted that insurers will ease up in the coming year to prevent California voters from approving tough new rate controls on the November statewide ballot.

For 2014, consumers purchasing individual policies paid between 22% and 88% more for health insurance than they did last year, depending on age, gender, type of policy and where they lived, Jones said Tuesday.

He said he has authorized a study of health insurance rates after receiving numerous complaints about rising costs.

"The rate increase from 2013 to 2014, on average, was significantly higher than rate increases in the past," Jones said in a news conference in Sacramento.

The hardest-hit were young people, he said. In one region of Los Angeles County, people age 25 paid 52% more for a silver plan than they had for a similar plan the year before, while someone age 55 paid 38% more, according to a report that Jones released Tuesday.

The state examined policies issued by the state's four largest health insurers: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser and Health Net. Officials with those companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jones took time Tuesday to lobby for a statewide initiative, on the November ballot, that would give his office new authority to regulate proposed health insurance increases. He said California is among a minority of states that does not regulate health insurance costs.

"We're going to continue to see rates go up simply because ... no one has the ability to stop excessive rates," he said.

There was some good news: Jones said he expects 2015 increases will be lower. That's because insurers won't want to offend voters before they consider health insurance cost regulation, he said.

"There would be a huge public outcry and the public would respond at the ballot box," Jones said. "I have no question that what we're going to see ... will be much lower than would otherwise occur."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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