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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.

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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.

Consumer Watchdog

Consumer Watchdog

Consumer Watchdog is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. We deploy an in-house team of public interest lawyers, policy experts, strategists, and grassroots activists to expose, confront, and change injustice every day, saving Americans billions of dollars and improving countless lives.