Monday, September 16, 2013

California’s Insurance Commissioner Explains the Affordable Care Act in Redding

Photo by Joe McGarity

Dave Jones, Insurance Commissioner for the State of California visited Redding on Sunday, September 15, 2013, a guest of the Democratic Women’s Club.  He began by explaining that there is no insurance commission, there’s “just me”.  In California the insurance commissioner is elected by the people directly.  His job is to regulate California’s insurance market, a $126 Billion industry comprising 10% of the state’s economy, to promote healthy markets, but also to protect Californians in their interactions with insurance companies.

Photo by Joe McGarity
The main topic of discussion that day was the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare by its detractors.  The commissioner, an enthusiastic supporter, explained that while many are under the impression the new law will go into effect in 2014, many of its provisions are in effect already.  He cited the following examples:

Under the Affordable Care Act companies can no longer practice “medical rescission”, a term used to describe removing a rate-payer from the roles when they make a claim due to an omission or error on an application years ago after having paid premiums all that time.

Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.

Dependants can now be kept on parents’ policies until they are 26 years of age.

Annual and lifetime “caps” on insurance payments have been eliminated.

Certain preventative treatments, like colonoscopies, no long have co-payments associated with them.

“Gender rating” has been outlawed, the practice of routinely charging women higher premiums.

What goes into effect in 2014:

All policies offered in California must include ten “Essential Health Benefits”.  This provision is meant to prevent “junk” policies that provide almost no benefits to consumers from entering the marketplace.

Out-of-pocket expenses (co-pays and deductibles) have been limited to $6500 per year with a sliding scale that scales all the way down to $0 for low-income Californians.

No exclusions will be allowed for any pre-existing conditions (children are already exempt).

Commissioner Jones stressed that the Affordable Care Act does not alter Medicare or Medicare Supplemental Insurance.

He also voiced his support for the Insurance Rate Public Justification Act, a ballot measure that would give his office the authority to reject rate increases by insurance companies, modeled after Proposition 103 passed by the voters in 1988, which did something similar to the auto insurance industry.  The act would also make any company document meant to justify rate increases a public record.  The measure has qualified and will be on this November’s ballot.

Photo by Joe McGarity
Questions for the audience were submitted on 5x7 cards.  One such question, “If I can’t afford insurance, how can I afford to pay penalties?” was initially ducked by the commissioner.  He instead explained the penalty system.  The new law requires all Californians to purchase health insurance.  Any individual who does not purchase insurance would be charged a penalty on their federal income tax return.  This penalty would increase each year insurance is not purchased.  Although direct questions from the audience were not a part of the scheduled event, this one came up again.  The second time around the commissioner faced it directly saying that there are some “safe harbors” from penalties.  For example, if an individual cannot find a product with a premium less that 8.5% of his income (modified adjusted gross), that individual would not be assessed a penalty.  He also suggested that many single, working people without children would be able to qualify for MediCal, who do not qualify now.

To sign up for insurance under the new system, call (800) 300-1506.

or contact:

Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP)
(530) 223-0999 or

or a Licensed Insurance Agent

To speak with a locally-based educator in the Redding area, email:

To report fraud or misconduct contact Commissioner Jones’ office at:

(800) 927-4357 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Public Nearly Unanimous about Dam Project

Photo by Joe McGarity
On Tuesday, September 10, 2013 the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation held a public hearing regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement related to the proposed raising of Shasta Dam in which public comments were accepted into the record.  The hearing took place in one of the larger conference rooms at the Holiday Inn on Hilltop Drive in Redding.  The large venue was mostly filled, but not crowed with people including two Shasta County Supervisors, the Mayor of the City of Shasta Lake, at least one Shasta Lake Councilman, the Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, various other officials, activists, business owners and of course reporters.  A four-member panel explained to the audience that no responses would be given to comments or questions presented at this event and that speakers would be limited to three minutes each, any additional comments or questions must be presented in writing.  The deadline for submitting such questions or comments is September 30, 2013.

Photo by Joe McGarity
Thirty-two citizens filled out speaker request cards and presented their commentaries which were recorded by a court reporter as many dozens more listened quietly, breaking only occasionally into brief timid applause.  Speakers who went over their time limits were generally not cut off unless they went well beyond their time and then only very politely.  Although the tension in the room was inescapable, it did not interfere with the orderly procedure.

There was a clear consensus among the comments presented.  Of the 32 speakers, 30 were opposed to the project.  The remaining two speakers recognized a need for more water storage, but were critical of how the federal government was handling the project.  Although many points were raised, a few key concerns stood out.  Owners and managers of resorts and marinas on the lake believe that they should be entitled to compensation for lost business and the costs of relocation.  They would also like to be guaranteed a new location.  A recently distributed map shows fewer recreation facilities on the lake than exist now.  Some businesses would have to close and at least one such business was surprised to find themselves crossed out on the new map, marked with an X and labeled to be “abandoned”.  The second most frequently heard comment was about salmon.  Many expressed a lack of faith in the project’s plans for salmon, believing that the sale of water to other communities was the real motivation behind the project and saving salmon was a ruse to get tax-payers to foot the bill for someone else’s profit.  But perhaps the most emotional testimony came from the Winnemem Wintu.  When Chief Sisk addressed the panel she asked when the promises made to the tribe in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s during the dam’s original construction would be kept.  She suggested that perhaps those promises ought to be fulfilled before any new ones should be considered. 

To submit your comments or questions to the panel in writing sent them by September 30 to:

Katrina Chow, Project Manger
Bureau of Reclamation, Planning Division
2800 Cottage Way

Sacramento, CA  95825-1893