03 May 2013
As temperatures rise like insurance costs in Los Angeles, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (no relation to Marcia Brady's prom date, Davy Jones) turned up the heat on insurance companies by appointing Consumer Watchdog to review unjust rate hikes.
California's Department of Insurance (CDI) regulates over 1,800 insurance companies and over 333,000 insurance broker agencies, but to tackle rising healthcare costs, CDI can't act alone.
To supplement CDI's workers who already review rates, California's Commissioner Jones awarded Consumer Watchdog, the nationally-recognized, Santa Monica-based, non-partisan, non-profit (more hyphens coming up) company with a 1-year contract of $88,000 in federal grants.
Consumer Watchdog (formerly Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights) is the brainchild of Boston attorney Harvey Rosenfield, who was making $20,000 a year in 1981 and paying over $2800 to insure his crummy Toyota. And boy was he livid about it.
He moved to California to start up the organization with one goal: roll back all types of insurance by 20%. Rosenfield authored Proposition 103, a measure which would slash rates by 20% for auto, property, casualty, and other types of insurance, and permit insurance companies, who he called "Outlaws", to set rates only by: driving experience, miles traveled annually, and safety record.
It was an election year in 1985 when Rosenfield began his outlandish grassroots campaign in his Toyota against the insurance companies' marketing war chest of $63 million. His hopes were high, but expectations from others: low.
When delivering the 500,000 signatures required for Prop 103’s place on the ballot, he memorably surrounded himself with armed guards, not for fear of his life, but for the attention it grabbed. To raise awareness for his cause, he even attempted to deliver a truckload of cow manure to Farmers Insurance Headquarters in Los Angeles. If only they named themselves Marshmallow Insurance.
His guerrilla marketing, 18-hour days, and threats of dung delivery worked and Prop 103 passed. Independent non-profit, Consumer Federation of America estimates Proposition 103 has saved consumers over $102 billion since 1988. Sadly, it doesn’t prevent health insurance companies from raising premiums unjustly. That’s where Dave Jones steps in.
In the same week Jones appointed Consumer Watchdog, the country's largest health insurer, United Health Group Inc. seemed to flip off the decision by raising premiums by 8%. Jones condemned this practice, calling it “excessive and unreasonable”, but he’s all bark and no bite.
While Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) aims to lower healthcare costs, California laws give no power to stop health insurance rate hikes; only review them. Jones hopes to have the power in 2014, when his ballot Prop 45 would grant state officials the power to reject unjust rate increases for health insurance.
While CDI lacks bite, Consumer Watchdog isn't a neutered animal. As one of the country's most influential advocate groups, it successfully defeated Mercury Insurance's attempt to repeal Proposition 103 in 2010. Will a similar planetary threat war with Prop 45 in 2014? I'm watching you, Uranus Insurance.