(CN) - Proposition 45, which would give California's insurance commissioner authority to modify or deny insurance rate hikes for millions of consumers, is losing support in the polls, but Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is confident that voters will approve it today.
"I believe that the voters will be able to see past the lies being spread by the insurance companies about the measure," Jones said in a telephone interview with Courthouse News. "Voters need to know that the misleading advertisements are coming from the big health insurers that oppose the initiative."
The state's top insurance companies - including Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield of California, Healthnet and WellPoint, the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross - have spent $57 million on advertisements opposing Prop. 45.
Jones said the insurance companies are determined to kill the measure for one reason: "To protect their profits."
Consumers are required by law to buy health insurance, but no one can stop the insurance companies from charging excessive rates, he said.
Prop. 45, the Public Notice Required for Insurance Company Rates Initiative, requires the California Insurance Commissioner to approve any changes to health insurance rates before they can take effect. It also requires public notice, disclosure and hearing on health insurance rate changes, and subsequent judicial review.
Prop. 45 applies only to health insurance sold to individuals and small businesses, not to large employers. The measure would affect approximately 6 million individuals and small businesses. It would be retroactive to 2012, so insurers could be required to pay refunds on premiums they have been collecting for two years.
"This type of regulation is not something new in California," Jones said. "The Department of Insurance has 25 years experience regulating insurance products."
The initiative expands the language of Prop. 103 - passed by California voters in 1988 - which gave the commissioner the power to regulate premiums for home and auto insurance.
The commissioner today has no power over the rates set by health insurance companies. Although the Department of Insurance and Department of Managed Care review the rates, "no agency currently has the ability to reject excessive health insurance rate hikes," said Jones, who is seeking re-election today.
This gives insurance companies free rein to continue to increase their rates to the detriment of consumers, he said, pointing out that premiums for employer health insurance in California have increased by 185 percent since 2002.
Anthem Blue Cross recently implemented its fourth consecutive excessive rate increase on small employers, Jones said.
The Department of Insurance found that Anthem's proposed average 9.8 percent premium increase on 120,000 members in small group health insurance policies to be excessive and unreasonable. The department determined that a 2.1 percent increase would be more appropriate, but had no ability to enforce its suggestion.
"California has no power to reject these excessive health insurance rates, unlike the 35 other states in the country that have this authority," Jones said.
On the other end of the spectrum, opponents of Prop. 45 say that the initiative will give one politician too much power, interfere with consumer treatment options, and create more costly bureaucracy.
"Prop. 45 is a flawed, deceptive measure that will increase costs for consumers and harm the quality of our health care," according to Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, a coalition of doctors, hospitals, small businesses, taxpayers and health plans.