Tag Archives: healthcare

I Support Planned Parenthood, Why Isn’t Planned Parenthood Supporting Women?

Planned ParenthoodFifteen women and mothers whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence wrote to the CEOs of Planned Parenthood today asking them to reverse a position that is devastating to women’s health and access to justice in California. The letter asked the CEOs to reverse their position on a proposed ballot measure to change a law that has discriminated against women for the last 38 years.

Read the letter here.

“We are women whose lives have been shattered by medical negligence,” they wrote. “We take issue with Planned Parenthood’s leading role in opposition to ‘The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act,’ a pending California ballot measure that would simply update for inflation the state’s 38 year old cap on compensation in medical malpractice cases. The outdated cap is unfair to many who have suffered medical harm, regardless of gender. But it has a disproportionate impact on women.”

“Planned Parenthood’s opposition to the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is against the interests of women in this state – your core constituency. The unfair, antiquated and sexist cap perpetuates an injustice against women that must be remedied. As a group that has been so deeply impacted by medical negligence and this outdated law, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in hopes you will reconsider your position on the ballot measure and support a reasonable index of the cap for inflation to bring California’s patient safety laws and women’s access to justice into the 21st century.”

Read more about the medical negligence suffered by the 15 women and their families here.

The letter explained how the limits on patients’ legal rights in medical negligence cases particularly harms women.

“In much the same way that the glass ceiling continues to undercut the income of working women, the malpractice cap on noneconomic damages means compensation for those harmed by medical negligence is largely determined by the income of the person who was injured. The calculus is simple and sexist.”

“A stay-at-home parent with no income or a parent who works only part-time to be able to spend more time with the children will be treated very differently under the cap than someone who is working full-time at a high-paying job.”

“A woman whose child was killed by medical negligence, or who lost her ability to have children due to medical negligence, or who underwent an unnecessary mastectomy due to medical negligence, is not likely to lose income.  But she has clearly suffered a grievous injury. Her compensation for her loss is limited to an amount below what anyone would consider fair in 2013.”

Planned Parenthood is usually a champion for women’s rights, so their backwards position on this issue is particularly stunning. Luckily, there’s still time before the initiative reaches the ballot for the leaders of Planned Parenthood to listen to the women of California and recant.

Posted by Carmen Balber, Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog.  For more information on Consumer Watchdog visit us online or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Blue Shield admits to overcharging California customers by about half a billion since 2010

It is a masterful spin by the self-described not-for-profit Blue Shield of California to announce that it is returning all but two percent of its profits to its customers, as though this were some act of humble generosity.  It’s a little like a supermarket announcing that from now on it’s going to give back (almost) all of your change.  (It’s actually worse than that, as I’ll explain.)

It is a masterful spin by the self-described not-for-profit Blue Shield of California to announce that it is returning all but two percent of its profits to its customers, as though this were some act of humble generosity.  It’s a little like a supermarket announcing that from now on it’s going to give back (almost) all of your change.  (It’s actually worse than that, as I’ll explain.)

All told, Blue Shield will have returned about $475 million in profits – $283 million that Blue Shield is crediting back in December plus about $167 million credited back earlier in the year for 2010 premiums as well as the $25 million the company distributed to doctors, hospitals and an as yet unnamed “community investment.”  But this should not be thought of as a sincere gift from a community-oriented nonprofit.  Rather, it’s nearly half a billion dollars that Blue Shield overcharged its policyholders and then held onto for months.  

Worse still, Blue Shield had to be pushed and prodded to do anything; this refund didn't just happen.  Blue Shield is only giving some money back because there was huge public pressure this year – from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, from nurses and consumers who protested at their corporate offices, from lawmakers like Assemblyman Mike Feuer carrying legislation to regulate insurance companies and from news reporters investigating their rates and salaries.  

What’s more, the $283 million that will go to reducing policyholders’ December premium payments is utter chump change when given a full context:

Blue Shield, according to documents it files with the state of California, has more than $3 billion in excess surplus (“Tangible Net Equity excess” is the formal term).  That massive and ever growing pot of money is a profit account that Blue Shield uses to take policyholder premium out of the healthcare system so they can come back and charge those same policyholders high rates again next year.  Blue Shield could give back $280 million a month for an entire year and still have a enough money on hand to run a stable insurance company.  Or, to think of it a little differently, instead of giving families back a few hundred dollars for Christmas, they could just sell insurance at a reasonable premium and not stuff their own stockings with surplus.

To be sure, Blue Shield is angling for a feel good story it can tell politicians and voters when they next consider whether to enact a law or initiative regulating the premiums health insurance companies can charge.  That story may work with some politicians in Sacramento, but I doubt voters who are stuck overpaying for health insurance will be so easily spun.


Doug Heller is the Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog. Visit our website at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.

Kaiser Forced to Repay Small Businesses for Overcharging

HMO faces scrutiny for their arithmetic

by Brian Leubitz

Kaiser is something of a mixed bag.  They get some good press for focusing on areas that help to reduce health care costs, preventative care, that sort of thing.  On the flip side, they are usually somewhere in the background on lobbying efforts, killing any attempts to make health care insurance more consumer friendly in California.

Well, today’s news is more on the dark side.  It turns out that they’ve been overcharging small business customers and not really providing the data to back it up:

Kaiser Permanente has retroactively rolled back rate increases that went into effect for small businesses on July 1 by 1.2 percent.

The welcomed – albeit small – bit of news for thousands of  California enrollees comes after a bit of wrangling with the state regulators.

Kaiser in April had proposed a 10.7 percent rate hikes for the bulk of its small business customers. The state Department of Managed Health Care, armed with a new law that allows them to scrutinize actuarial data behind the rate filings, pushed back.

“We’ve been  concerned about the lack of data they provided to support their trends and we requested they reduce their rates,” said department spokeswoman Lynne Randolph.

The new increase of 9.5 percent translates into a total savings of $13.5 million, Randolph said. “We  believe thousands of people in small businesses are going to benefit from this,” she said. “It shows the rate review process can be effective.” (SF Gate)

This is bigger than it might seem. First, Kaiser had been facing heat from NUHW for a while now on labor issues, but also on issues of fairness like this.  In fact, NUHW raised the alarms in a letter (PDF) on this issue back in June.

There’s always more than meets the eye in these things.  Everybody scratches everybody else’s back.  In fact, the wife of Bob Hertzberg sits on the board of Kaiser.  Hertzberg, the former speaker of the Assembly and leader of the rich dude funded “Think Long” project that will be coming up with ideas to “reform” the tax system sometime in the next few months.  You think they’ll call for increased monitoring of the massively profitable “non-profit” health insurance companies?

Expansion of Wireless Network is Critical

This editorial in The Detroit News by Orjiakor N. Isiogu, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, very nearly perfectly sums up our argument.

Like HDTV before it, 4G-LTE wireless holds incredible promise for consumers and device manufacturers alike. But today there is insufficient wireless capacity to support millions of 4G-LTE devices, and demand is rising ever faster. According to Cisco Systems, mobile traffic is expected to increase 26-fold by 2015. By 2015 the majority of Internet traffic will be via mobile devices – a reality unthinkable just two years ago.

That’s why LightSquared’s venture is significant. It would substantially increase America’s broadband wireless capacity while providing next-generation high-speed wireless data and voice to areas previously underserved. In addition, the company plans to market its nationwide network on a wholesale model, allowing any number of new competitors to enter the market. Many observers have hailed this proposal as a key part of President Obama’s plan to increase high-speed Internet adoption nationwide, while also increasing competition in a consolidating wireless industry, all at zero cost to taxpayers, thanks to a planned $25 billion investment by the company.

More competitors in the market will mean lower prices and better service for consumers, along with expanded wireless broadband options. Another key benefit will be the economic benefit associated with building out a national network, including the creation of an estimated 15,000 jobs per year. Public safety could be enhanced by this network as well.

Simply put, whether you’re somewhere in urban Michigan or rural California, an expanded wireless network means more competition, lower prices, and better service. And we’re doing it all at zero cost to taxpayers.

More Spectrum. Yeah. That’s the Answer!

For real – it is. And the truth is, that while all of this debate about the AT&T/T-Mobile merger is important, worthwhile and necessary, it’s also something of a red herring. Because at the end of the day the problem that the merger was initiated in part to address, the problem that will ultimately prevent new competition, stifle innovation and shut down the incredible potential to create jobs and grow the economy through broadband investment remains.

And that problem is SPECTRUM.

And if there’s something we know a little bit about, it’s the need for more spectrum.

Check out this very excellent article written by Jeff Kagen at E-Commerce Times, “Let’s Solve the Real Wireless Problem: Spectrum Shortage” http://www.technewsworld.com/s…

Time For A 1988-Style Voter Revolt?

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning on the front page about the landmark insurance reform we expect to be spending the next fifteen months working for. Insurance companies, the legislature and recent court rulings have all turned against consumers, much like they had in 1988, when California voters struck back with the toughest insurance reform in America: Proposition 103.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning on the front page about the landmark insurance reform we expect to be spending the next fifteen months working for.

Insurance companies, the legislature and recent court rulings have all turned against consumers, much like they had in 1988, when California voters struck back with the toughest insurance reform in America: Proposition 103.

By 2014, all of us will be required to buy health insurance or face tax penalties. The problem is that health insurance companies can charge whatever they like and raise premiums at will in California. This is the same scenario that drivers faced in 1988 when mandatory auto insurance laws forced drivers to pay for policies many couldn’t afford. Voters then required auto insurers to pay drivers a 20% refund and to get permission before they ever raised rates again.

Just like in 1988, insurance stalwarts in the statehouse are now holding insurance premium regulation hostage. The companies have given the politicians millions so they can make billions overcharging you. And, as in 1988, the California Supreme Court has issued several rulings taking away the right of policyholders to hold insurance companies accountable.

If we go to the ballot with a 1988-style 20% rollback in health insurance premiums, will you be with us?

Our “Proposition 103 Part Two” ballot measure will have to be filed by November 2011 in order to begin signature collection so it gets on the ballot for November 2012.  

The main provisions of the ballot measure are as follows:

1- A 20% rate rollback in health insurance rates to reverse five years of unwarranted double-digit price gouging;

2- Require health insurance companies to seek permission from the elected insurance commissioner before raising rates, as auto insurance companies must, and application of other Prop 103 protections to health insurance companies;

3- Prohibit all insurance companies from raising your rates or refusing to renew you because of your credit score, claims or insurance history;

4- Allow consumers to join a non-profit public health plan administered by CALPERS instead of having to buy insurance from private insurance companies;  

5- Correct court rulings that have misinterpreted the law to benefit the insurance industry;

6- Create a “three strikes and you’re out of California” law for insurance companies that repeatedly violate the state’s consumer protection laws

7- Prohibit health insurance companies from forcing you to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of enrollment.  

We want to go to the ballot in November 2012. Will you be with us? Click here to sign up!

Together we can move health care reform forward in California and America.


Jamie Court is president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progressive’s Guide To Raising Hell.

Bringing Broadband to Every Corner of CA

Few topics today are generating as much discussion as the seemingly insatiable demand for mobile data and how our country is going to keep pace with it. The United States has set a national goal to provide 98 percent of Americans with broadband access within the next five years. LightSquared is stepping up to help make this a reality. We are contributing $14 billion in private investment over the next eight years to build a nationwide wireless broadband network using 4G-LTE technology integrated with satellite coverage. This represents a $14 billion private sector-not government-investment in America’s infrastructure.

The deployment and management of the LightSquared network will, in turn, create new jobs. We expect to generate more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs in each of the next five years. And that’s just the beginning of what the LightSquared network will help bring to California and across the country.

LightSquared will offer network capacity on a wholesale-only basis. This is a dramatic departure from the current vertically integrated model in the wireless industry, and it will open the broadband market to new players such as retailers, cable companies, and device manufacturers, to name a few. This means that end users – consumers like you – will enjoy the benefits of innovation, increased competition, and choice.

Last, but not least, the LightSquared integrated 4G-LTE-satellite network will provide much-needed access to consumers, businesses, healthcare facilities, tribal communities, and public safety agencies throughout rural America. Across the country, we will serve critical public sector needs such as emergency preparedness and seamless communications in times of crisis.

One of the reasons we are so committed to bringing wireless connectivity to the underserved rural United States was seen in action this past spring. As storms and a tornado ripped through the south, websites were posting potentially lifesaving real-time information. But because broadband Internet access and adoption in Alabama is below the national average, many residents missed out on the advance warning. This is unacceptable. The United States should be the global leader in delivering wireless broadband to all of its citizens, regardless of whether they live in rural Alabama or downtown Los Angeles.

Think Progress and Wendell Potter call out Kaiser in fight to pass AB 52

Assembly Bill 52 is a modest bill that would give teeth to the State Insurance Commissioner’s oversight of health insurance rates in California.

On a day when the SF Chronicle is reporting that Kaiser Permanente, flush with more than $5 billion in profits over the last 27 months, is poised to raise rates on 300,000 California Kaiser policyholders by an average of 11%, Wendell Potter, writing in the Huffington Post, and Lee Fang, writing at Think Progress, are investigating Kaiser’s financials more deeply and shining a light on the “coalition” that big insurers have built to fight AB 52 and kill the rate review bill before it becomes law.

More key graphs on the flip…  

Writing in the Huffington Post, author and former health insurance exec, Wendell Potter highlights the background of Kaiser’s opposition to AB 52:

Kaiser alone has spent $700,000 so far this year lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento. It undoubtedly will be spending quite a bit more this summer to persuade state senators to vote against the rate control bill. And if any health plan can pull it off, it’s Kaiser, which has the biggest market share in the state and is also one of the country’s most profitable insurance companies.

According to public filings, Kaiser has made a whopping $5 billion in profits since 2009. That’s more than all but a small handful of the country’s for-profit insurance corporations have made. During the first three months of this year, Kaiser made more than $920 million in profits. Yet because it has been able to maintain its legal structure as a nonprofit, it doesn’t pay taxes on that money like the for-profits do.

One of the ways the company has been able to keep profitability strong is by demanding double-digit rate increases from its customers. Earlier this year, Kaiser announced it would raise rates on many of its policyholders in California by as much as 23 percent. No wonder it doesn’t want the state’s insurance commissioner to have the power to say “no” to such increases.

Potter continues, assessing the outsized compensation packages and ample reserves enjoyed by the executives running Kaiser and Blue Shield, which are ostensibly “not for profit”:

Kaiser’s CEO’s $8 million in compensation puts him in the same league as the CEOs of the biggest for-profits. Blue Shield of California and many of the other nonprofit Blues around the country are also doing quite well, thank you.

As a Consumers Union analysis found last year, seven out of 10 nonprofit Blues plans had at least three times more in reserves than regulators required. To be able to maintain that level of profitability, nonprofit health plans have to hike rates just as high and just as often as their for-profit competitors.

And healthcare insurers, using those profits, have assembled a powerful “coalition” in an attempt to defeat AB 52, a bill that will regulate those rate hikes. Lee Fang, writing in Think Progress, breaks it down:

Like the national legislative battle over President Obama’s health reforms, insurance companies in California are attempting to undermine AB 52 by showcasing widespread opposition to the bill. The California Association of Health Plans – the trade association representing major insurers in the state like Kaiser Health Plans, Anthem Blue Cross (WellPoint), Aetna, UnitedHealth, HealthNet, and Cigna – is leading the charge, firing off press release after press release noting the “diverse group” of California organizations against the rate review bill. However, a closer look at the groups the insurers are touting reveals multiple financial ties to insurers opposed to AB 52.

Fang continues:

ThinkProgress has learned that the lobbying firm Fiona Hutton and Associates has been charged with helping to recruit and push these insurer allies…Health insurers have not only purchased lobbyists with their customers’ premium money, they have purchased friends to build their anti-AB 51 “coalition.”

You can take action to create grassroots pressure for the passage of AB 52. The Courage Campaign is running a petition calling for Kaiser Permanente to switch course and support the passage of AB 52.



NUHW, California’s fastest-growing union, is a worker-led movement to hold healthcare corporations accountable to the public interest, improve the lives of caregivers and patients, and win quality, affordable healthcare for all. Join us on FACEBOOK and follow us on Twitter. You can read about NUHW workers’ fight to win a fair contract at Kaiser at KaiserUnited.org.

Sen. Feinstein Makes Tough Pitch for Rate Regulation and CW’s Report

Sen. Feinstein

Washington D.C. — It's hard to imagine that a briefing on rate regulation and a new Consumer Watchdog report would draw a fascinated audience, but this is DC.  Journalists and nonprofit advocates spent 90 minutes Wednesday as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and an expert panel made an impassioned call for getting health insurance companies under control with tough regulation of the rates they can charge. As the senator put it, without mincing a single word:

“While insurance premiums continue to spiral out of control, CEO's paychecks are getting bigger, and insurance companies are spending less on medical care and more on profits. Today, in 17 states including California, state regulators do not have authority to block or modify insurance rate increases that are excessive, unjustified, or discriminatory. In order to protect consumers from skyrocketing insurance premiums, state regulators need this explicit authority to ensure rates are justified. This is why I have introduced the Health Insurance Rate Review Act of 2011, and why I have endorsed state legislation in California, AB 52, to close this loophole.”

The senator was the lead speaker as Consumer Watchdog released a report leaving no doubt that the only way to protect consumers from spiraling rate increases is what's called prior approval rate regulation: The insurance commissioner gets to see rate increases well ahead of time and can reject them outright or demand modification. Consumers can challenge excessive rates on their own, and be paid for their time. It's the only way to keep insurance companies honest, and also enlist them in actually helping to keep down overall health costs.

The report, called “Health Reform and Rate Regulation: Can't Have One Without The Other,” outlines why California has the best, most protective model of rate regulation–except it applies only to auto and other property and casualty insurance. The report illustrates both successes and failures in other states, and outlines a role for the federal government in making sure states protect consumers.

For the short version, here's the news release.

Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfield, Washington director Carmen  Balber and Maine Superintendent of Insurance Mila Kaufman (a creative and fair consumer advocate) held a lively panel discussion–the journalists present stuck around for the whole thing, which is not the usual way.

Video is to come–I know that with a topic as delicious as rate regulation, no one can wait.

Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

S915/HR1200 – The Healthcare Wisdom We Can Trust

Today, it is official.  Two amazing and courageous elected officials stood with nurses and patients to introduce legislation that moves beyond the current health reform effort and forward to a healthy system for all.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-WA, have been allies in the cause for decades.  There are not young fellows in terms of legislative or life experience.  

Both stood together to introduce the American Health Security Act of 2011 – single-payer, Medicare for All style coverage that would be administered by the states.  S915 and HR 1200. Sound policy.  Sound thinking.  Perfect timing.  

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Rep. McDermott (D-WA) on the left and Sen. Sanders (I-VT) on the right.

We can all look at the statistics and the motivations of those who offer the numbers, but these two elected officials stand with us — the patients, the nurses, the workers, the people — as surely as night follows day.  It is rare to see moments when the people’s business intersects with the political moment.  And it is even more rare to see those elected officials who look to the needs of their constituents and the nation and stand up for policy that uplifts – even if some powerful financial interests see things another way.

The work ahead may be daunting, but with advocates like National Nurse United, and co-president Jean Ross, RN, standing in support of AHSA of 2011, S915/HR1200, the path seems navigable, if challenging.  Jean was convincing and committed today as she mentioned her own son and his struggle to secure healthcare in the midst of the current for-profit system that often leaves patients left behind and nurses holding hands and hearts.  “We hear the stories,” said Ross, “We hear what others do not.”

The American Health Security Act is also backed by the AFL-CIO and its 13 million members.  Arlene Holt-Baker, executive vice president, spoke on behalf of the national AFL-CIO at today’s press conference.

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Jean Ross, RN, NNU co-president

This was not an effort to criticize or condemn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, said Sanders and McDermott, but the opportunity to move beyond and to finally realize the goal of workers all over this nation to provide healthcare as a basic human right to all.

As a patient and as someone who went broke (though supposedly fully insured), I watched today’s events with a combination of wonder and worry and praise.  I continue to believe – even in the face of all evidence to the contrary – that with the help of the nurses we will achieve healthcare as a human right and we will do so without outright revolution because of lawmakers like Sen. Sanders and Rep. McDermott.  We can do it if we stand together with enough clarity and enough solidarity.  

My worry related more to the wonderful man I married who is in every way my partner in this struggle and who was at the moment of the press conference in consultation about his own most recent health crisis.  Even with full coverage, it is still up to his supplemental insurance carrier to determine if the care his doctor wants to give will be approved.  My worry for him would be so very much different if we would change the motivations from profit first to healthcare first.  The American Health Security Act of 2011 reaches ever closer to that day.

Finally, I stood with labor leaders – and I am not one of their stature – who have worked so hard to advance anything related to healthcare reform and with whom I have sometimes had differences.  But today, we stood as Americans who believe that working class people and our kids and our grandkids deserve the right to healthcare as a human right provided under the social insurance model and not as some privilege granted only to the wealthy and the powerful.

Great day.  A celebration of life.  The American health Security Act of 2011.  

S915/HR1200 – Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jim McDermott.  We can do this.

Read the AFL-CIO blog

Read about the event in The Nation