Ed Bedford 4:30 p.m., Jan. 18
Taxpayers' Association Forms, Takes On Insurance Companies
Photo at left: Dave Jones- from BenefitsPro website
Today marked the inaugural meeting of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association, held at the College-Rolando Library branch. It was attended by close to 100 of the group’s stated membership of over 500 citizens. Union members were well-represented, as the group teamed with the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council to attract initial interest in the movement.
Board member Pat Zaharopoulos opened the meeting with a brief explanation of the background and intent of the non-profit group, to educate and advise California voters. “We are not funded by corporations. We are not funded by big business . . . we will not have professional lobbyists on our board . . . we plan to be the voice for the average California taxpayer.”
Zaharopoulos then turned her attention to some of the issues facing the country’s shrinking middle class, including escalating education and health care costs and the stagnation of average workers’ wages. “In 1970 the CEOs got about 28 times what the average worker got, we’re now at about 158 times that.” She contrasted this to Europeans, whose leaders are paid approximately 25 times what the workers are.
The keynote speaker at the meeting was Dave Jones, California Insurance Commissioner. His focus first turned to what he stated were the positive accomplishments of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to by critics as ‘Obamacare.’ A key point was a provision taking effect January 1 requiring health insurance providers to spend a minimum 80% of premiums collected on what the industry refers to as its ‘medical loss ratio,’ which in essence is the cost of actually providing care. “It wasn’t too long ago that Anthem Blue Cross only put 60 cents on the dollar into actual medical care – about a decade ago, actually,” added Jones.
He then took insurers to task on their rising profit margins coinciding with rising consumer premiums. “The top five insurers in the nation in 2010 made $11.7 billion dollars . . .that’s a 17 percent increase from 2009 when they made $9.9 billion and a 51 increase from 2008 when they made $7.8 billion.”
Omitted from the Affordable Care Act was a provision to allow insurance commissioners to regulate rate hikes. Currently the California commissioner has the authority to regulate rate increases for home, auto, and other types of property insurance, granted via voter approval of Prop 103 in 1988. While 35 other states allow their commissioners some control over rates, California currently does not.
The state legislature is now considering SB-52, a bill to provide these powers to the insurance commissioner. Per Jones, the bill has been approved by the Assembly and is under consideration by various Senate committees before coming to a full vote. Lending support to the bill were local Democratic Assembly members Ben Hueso, Marty Block, and Toni Atkins.
The floor was then opened for questions. This time was used largely for meeting attendees to voice their personal frustrations with the health care system. A woman who identified herself as Annie went so far as to ask the commissioner to revoke the license of her provider to practice in the state.
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