Jones Praises Supreme Court, Calls for Health Rate Reviews

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act – and he took the opportunity to state his support for health rate hike reviews in California.

“The passage of the Affordable Care Act is one of the most significant legislative achievements in the last 40 years,” said Jones, who called the decision “a critically important one for the future of the entire nation and California.”

He noted that California is home to 7 million uninsured people, 1 million of whom are children, and the Affordable Care Act will give Californians benefits like allowing parents to keep children on their insurance until they are age 26,eliminating lifetime and annual caps on health insurance benefits, preventing copayments for preventative care and providing cheaper medications for.

Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan ruled for the Act, while Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.

While praising the 5-4 ruling, Jones called attention to a “missing piece” of the act he feels is important for California.

“There is one critical reform that is missing from the Affordable Care Act,” Jones said. “The missing piece of the Affordable Care Act is the absence of authority to reject excessive health insurance rate hikes. Californians and California businesses have been hit with double-digit rate hikes year after year – 10, 20, 30, 40, for some individuals as high as 300 percent, in a year. Health insurers have been making record profits at our expense.”

Jones, who spoke during a morning conference call with the media following the Supreme Court ruling, called for the authority to review health insurance rate hikes, and for the office of insurance commissioner to be able to reject hikes Jones feels are excessive.

“As insurance commissioner I don’t have the authority to reject excessive health insurance rate hikes,” Jones said. “Since 1988, California’s insurance commissioners have had the authority to reject excessive rate hikes for auto insurance, home insurance, property and casualty insurance, and as a result have saved consumers tens of billions of dollars. But not health insurance.”

More than 30 states have given their insurance commissioners that authority, he said.

“We need to pass a law in California to provide for the authority to reject excessive health insurance rate increases,” he added.

Jones called for the passage of Assembly Bill 52, which he said would do just that.

AB 52, authored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, who is also running for L.A. City Attorney, would require health insurers to file rate hikes for approval by the Department of Insurance. The bill is awaiting hearing in Senate.

The bill has a long list of supporters and opposition. Supporters include ACLU of California, AARP, the California Federation of Teachers and Consumer Watchdog, which has submitted 800,000 signatures to qualify for the state ballot a measure requiring health insurers to file for rate increases.

Also supporting the bill is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a historic one.

“Today’s decision is a historic victory for Californians, for the president, and for the country,” Harris said. “The Affordable Care Act repairs a healthcare system badly in need of reform and ensures that every American has access to affordable health care. We never doubted the constitutionality of this law, and it is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Californians.”

Opposition to the bill includes the California Chamber of Commerce, American Insurance Association, California Medical Association, League of California Cities and insurers like Blue Shield of California and Healthnet.

Those opposed argue AB 52 would impose an “additional layer of regulation” that will increase the cost of delivering healthcare to Californians. Those supporting the bill say it will help keep health insurance costs down.

Getting back to the Supreme Court decision, Jones, who said the decision is a “validation of President Obama’s leadership in enacting the Affordable Care Act,” said he believes California is in good position to take advantage of the changes that the reforms will bring, noting that he began working to ensure the various forms of the Act would be implemented in California.

Not all the reaction to the Supreme Court upholding the Act, also known as Obamacare, was so upbeat. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America called the decision a disappointment.

“Big ‘I’ is disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the PPACA,” Robert Rusbuldt, Big “I” president & CEO, said in a statement. “Our association, economists and other industry leaders and experts agree that many of the provisions in the PPACA are causing more harm than good. The Big ‘I’ will continue to work with Congress to repeal provisions of the law that negatively impact our small business members and the customers they serve.”

Presidential challenger Mitt Romney called the Act bad policy and a bad law.

“What the court did not do in its last session, I will do on the first day if elected president of the United States, and that’s to repeal Obamacare,” he said.

Insurance Commissioners in the Western states offered varying, if any, opinions on the decision.

In Washington, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler expressed relief over the decision.

“I’m very pleased the Supreme Court chose to uphold the Affordable Care Act,” Kreidler in a statement. “We’ve been busy for two years now implementing the reforms and have made great progress, but there’s a lot left to do before 2014. With the court decision out of the way, we can continue our focus on where it should be – bringing relief to families struggling to find quality, affordable health insurance.”