Since he took office early last year, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has made health care reform his top priority. Now he's backing a ballot measure – the Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act – that would give him the power to block health insurance rate increases he deems excessive.
He spoke to The Bee recently about the initiative and President Barack Obama's health care reform act under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
>What is the best way to help the more than 6 million Californians who are uninsured?
Implementing the (federal) Affordable Care Act is the best opportunity to provide health care to the uninsured. Also, requiring insurance companies to cover people regardless of pre-existing conditions and mandating that everyone has health insurance will help (otherwise) many uninsured go to emergency rooms, and that's extremely expensive.
>The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. What if it is overturned?
We think it is premature to write the obituary of the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration has made it very clear that there is no Plan B. Here in California, we are working hard to make sure the pieces are put into place.
>Can you talk about the initiative you are supporting that gives you the power to reject rate increases for health care?
After seven years of fighting for legislation and seeing it blocked because the HMOs have so much power in the state Senate, I've concluded the best way to accomplish change is to take it to the voters. That's why I'm supporting the ballot measure and, if qualified, it will be on the November ballot.
>Do other states have this?
Yes, 34 states give the commissioner the power to reject excessive rates, but rates are not regulated in California. Proposition 103 (which passed in 1988) gave the commissioner the power to reject excessive rates for auto, property, casualty and medical malpractice, but not health insurance.
>What about criticism that fees to pay for implementation of the law would be too expensive?
We believe the costs estimated have been inflated. Also, these costs need to be put in context, and this initiative won't cost the taxpayers anything. It is paid for by fees on the insurance companies.
>Do Californians pay too much for health insurance?
Absolutely. There is no question. There is a discrepancy in what we pay for health care and what we receive. Conversely, health care companies are making record profits.
>California is considered by many to be anti-business. Is this initiative anti-business?
This is pro-business and pro-consumer. California small businesses have been crippled by rising health care costs for their employees.
>Recently, thousands of people lined up at Cal Expo and waited for hours to get free health care. Many of them have jobs. What do you think of this?
I saw that. It's a tragedy that we would need help in Sacramento, in California, from an organization that was originally established to provide help in Third World countries. The notion that people have to rely on something like this to have a tooth pulled or have their eyes checked or a lump looked at is outrageous. It underscores the need for reform.