BUSINESS

Health premiums soared, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says

Californians paid 22% to 88% more for individual health coverage this year than last, 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 as Proposition 45.

Insurers and opponents of Proposition 45 dismissed Jones' comments as misleading and politically motivated.

At a news conference Tuesday, Jones said individuals this year paid between 22% and 88% more for individual health insurance policies than they did last year, depending on age, gender, type of policy and where they lived.

The increases did not affect poor people, whose policies are heavily subsidized, Jones said. The study results released Tuesday did not include group policies such as those offered by employers.

Jones said he authorized the 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.

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, Jones said.

The state examined policies issued by the state's four largest health insurers: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser and Health Net.

Jones took time Tuesday to lobby for Proposition 45, 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 do 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."

Critics of Jones and Proposition 45 were quick to respond.

Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, which opposes the initiative, said Jones "is using this misleading report to promote a ballot measure that would give him vast new powers over healthcare decisions."

The California Assn. of Health Plans, an insurer trade group, said in a news release that Jones' criticism "fails to consider the fundamental changes to health insurance that caused some Californians to pay less and some to pay more for their health insurance and ignores other positive changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act."

"Health plans are focused on working with Covered California to provide affordable premiums during the upcoming open enrollment period, while Commissioner Jones is looking backward," said Charles Bacchi, the group's executive vice president.

"His analysis doesn't take into account subsidies, enrollees who are benefiting from the ACA, or acknowledge how the ACA has substantially expanded coverage and benefits while also changing the way premiums are priced."

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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