Consumer Watchdog filed a ballot initiative in California to make health insurance companies open their books to forcing them to justify, under penalty of perjury, their proposed rate changes before they take effect.

If enough signatures–504,760,to be exact–are collected by May 1, 2012,  the initiative will be on the ballot  next year, for the  Nov. 6, 2012 election.

The initiative is titled The Insurance Rate Public Justification And Accountability Act.

“Getting control of health insurance premium increases in California is like trying to slow down a run-away train. Health insurance companies can raise their rates at will, and they don’t even have to open their books and get permission from our insurance commissioner first,” stated Consumer Watchdog in its blog.

Consumers and some regulators are pushing for rate disclosures and premium justifications from health insurers as many have complained costs are spiraling beyond what policyholders can afford.

New York State’s Department of Financial Services was recently successful after a public relations battle with health insurers in getting them to make their rate filings public upon request. See: http://www.lifehealthpro.com/2011/10/25/united-healthcare-makes-rates-public

Byron Tucker, Deputy Commissioner, Communications, for the California Department of Insurance, stated that  Insurance Commissioner  Dave Jones  strongly supports efforts to “curb skyrocketing health insurance rates. “

Both during his time in the State Assembly and now as Insurance Commissioner, sponsoring Assembly Bill 52, Jones has crusaded to give the office the legal authority to reject excessive health insurance rate increases . This is the same authority the CDI has  for auto, property, and casualty insurance. “Commissioner Jones is firmly in support of what the majority of Californians have called for repeatedly: an end to unfair, excessive, and unjustified health insurance rate increases. He looks forward to reviewing the details of Consumer Watchdog’s ballot initiative,” Tucker stated.

There are five health insurance corporations that control 80% of the market in the state of California, Consumer Watchdog worries.

The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), has stated as its policy on containing healt hcare costs that it encourages policymakers to allow for the creation of wellness programs and that these programs should contain premium and cost-sharing incentives for program beneficiaries to spur participation. It cites unhealthy behavior and lifestyle choices as two key factors in the increased cost of health care.