OCEAN PARK BLVD — Think the cost of your health insurance is too high?

Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog does. The nonprofit, which advocates on behalf of taxpayers, has launched an online petition to put insurance reform on the ballot by the next statewide election.

The proposed ballot measure would require insurance companies to publicly justify rate increases before they went into effect.

The measure would also give Californians the right to challenge rate increases that are deemed unfair.

The petition needs 505,000 signatures by May 1, 2012.

“Californians are facing skyrocketing rate increases year after year,” said Carmen Balber, campaign manager for Consumer Watchdog campaigns.

Health insurance rates went up five times the rate of inflation, Balber said.

Such a move would not be that different from other forms of insurance, like homeowners and automobile, where companies have to publicly justify their rate increases; also, some 35 states require health insurance companies to publicly justify their rate increases, Balber said.

“We think California consumers deserve the same protection,” she said.

Information about the petition is being spread digitally in an effort to get it straight to Californians, Balber said.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored an e-mail in support of the petition to be sent to registered voters, and the petition itself is available online, and can be viewed, downloaded and printed as a one page document, Balber said.

“That’s fairly unique because most petitions are too long to fit on one page,” she said.

However, some organizations do not see the petition as positive.

Both the California Hospital Association (CHA) and the California Medical Association (CMA), a group that advocates for doctors and patients, have come out against the petition.

Paul Phinney, president elect of CMA, said that he understands that healthcare insurance is expensive for patients, but the initiative does nothing to address those costs aside from creating bureaucratic red tape.

Phinney cited a state law, passed in 2010, that requires insurance companies to file with the California Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance information about changes in rates for individual and small groups at least 60 days before they take effect.

“We need to let that legislation work for a while, see how well it’s going to work,” Phinney said.

Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs with CHA, said the petition also fails to take into account how hospitals obtain money.

Due to federal cuts, hospitals in California lose money on Medical and Medicaid patients they take in, she said.

“They do not pay their fair share of the cost of care,” Emerson-Shea said.

The lost money is made up by shifting it to funds that come from insurance plans, she said.

And that’s money that needs to go toward state mandates, like the Seismic Retrofit Program, a statewide program that requires hospitals to replace or retrofit buildings to a higher earthquake safety standard, in some cases by 2013, or be closed, Emerson-Shea said.

It’s an important program, but one that comes without any state or federal funding, she said.

“When you look at the measure, it does nothing to address those concerns,” she said.

news@smpd.com

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