LOS ANGELES (AP) - California voters on Tuesday shot down a ballot initiative that sought to expand the state insurance commissioner's authority after health insurance companies poured millions of dollars into advertising to fight it.
With 26 percent of precincts reporting, 60 percent of voters had cast ballots against a plan to give the elected commissioner authority to veto rate increases for small group and individual health plans, while 40 percent of voters supported it.
Opponents of Proposition 45, who were backed by the state's four largest health insurers, said they were pleased their efforts paid off.
"I was holding my breath," said Micah Weinberg, senior policy adviser to the Bay Area Council, which opposed the initiative. "This was a huge threat to health reform in the state, so I'm very, very glad that we've batted it back."
Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based group backed by attorneys, argued the measure would add transparency to the rate-setting process and force health insurers to justify hikes, as companies that sell auto and homeowner insurance must do.
Opponents said it would give the commissioner too much power and meddle with the state's recently created health insurance exchange, harming California's ability to deliver low-cost health insurance coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Consumer Watchdog's president, Jamie Court, said his group made a final push for votes but was outspent by insurance companies. As of late October, most of the $55 million in opposition funding had come from four major health insurers: Kaiser, WellPoint, Blue Shield and Health Net.
"Whatever happens tonight, this is a battle in a war that is going to be going on until health insurance companies are accountable for what they charge," Court said.
In California, about 16 percent of the population has individual or small group health insurance, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
About 1.4 million people signed up for individual health plans through the state health insurance exchange in its first year, and premiums for those consumers are poised to rise by an average of 4.2 percent in 2015. That's about half the increase the industry has seen over the past three years.
Covered California, the state's online health insurance marketplace, did not take a formal position on the initiative, but staff members released a report finding it could disrupt the exchange's work negotiating with insurers, cause delays and risk having insurers leave the market.
Covered California offers private health coverage to those with no access to health care through their jobs.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.
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