- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s insurance commissioner released a report Tuesday showing the cost of health-care premiums increased significantly this year, as he pushes for more authority to regulate those costs.

California’s four largest insurers raised premiums for individuals from at least 22 percent to as much as 88 percent, depending on factors such as age and location, according to the annual report released by Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat first elected in 2010. Those figures were calculated comparing the price of an insurer’s mid-quality standard plans in 2014 to the insurer’s most popular plans in 2013.

Earlier this year, thousands of people voiced complaints that new rates would be high, even though the state said 2014 rates would be lower than expected.

The report also came as Jones campaigns for Proposition 45, a measure on the November ballot that would give his office the power to stop rate increases.

Health insurers said Jones’ analysis of rates is faulty because the plans offered through the state marketplace in 2014 are different under the federal health law. They include subsidies for low-income Californians that reduce the premiums and requirements that the policies cover specific treatments such as maternity care and mental health services.

“The (Affordable Care Act) ushered in a new era of health care coverage, opening up access to comprehensive health care to millions who previously could not obtain or could not afford it, and California has seen tremendous success in implementing the law,” California Association of Health Plans Executive Vice President Charles Bacchi said in a prepared statement. “And, while some paid more for this expanded health care coverage, many Californians paid less and benefited from subsidies.”

Jones said many of the requirements were already in place in California, and he pointed to a lack of competition in the marketplace as a reason for price increases.

Opponents of Proposition 45 also object to provisions allowing third-party attorneys to contest rates and win payouts if they prevail.

But Jones countered that without a measure like Proposition 45, “we are going to continue to see rates going up simply because there is no authority to reject excessive rates, there is no requirement to require justifying their rates,” Jones said.

Covered California, the state health insurance marketplace, is scheduled to announce this week which plans will be offered on the exchange and their prices.

Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Proposition 45 opponents, says the new report is “as outdated and misleading as the ballot initiative” because of the new price figures.

Jones said he expects health insurers to keep rate increases lower this year to prevent a voter backlash in November.

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