(Bloomberg) — WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP) is helping to pay for a fight against a ballot initiative that could give California insurance regulators the power to reject increases in health insurance premiums.
WellPoint accounted for $12.5 million of the $13.4 million that initiative opponents had contributed as of April 2, and its Anthem Blue Cross unit had contributed $270,000, according to MapLight, a research organization.
The anti-initiative total included $270,000 from Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc.; $180,000 from Blue Shield of California; $135,000 from Health Net Inc. (NYSE:HNT); $30,000 from a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH); and $30,000 from the California Association of Health Plans.
Measure supporters have raised $425,521, with $250,000 coming from Consumer Watchdog; $105,000 coming from the Committee for Corporate Accountability and Consumer Protection; and $50,000 coming from the California Nurses Association.
Voters won’t be voting on the measure until November.
“It is unusual to have such substantial donations this early in the election process,” said Daniel G. Newman, MapLight’s president. “It shows what’s at stake financially for those insurers and also what’s at stake financially for health- insurance consumers.”
Measures with similar funding disparities have failed in recent years. In 2012, California voters rejected a proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $1 to fund cancer research that received $12.9 million in support from the American Cancer Society and other groups, while the opposition gave $47.8 million, led by Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., according to MapLight data.
The financial advantage will give the measure’s opponents the ability to run more television and radio advertisements and send out more mailers to sway voters, Newman said.
“This battle will be a David and Goliath fight,” said Carmen Balber, Consumer Watchdog’s executive director. “California voters are smart, and it raises red flags to the public when an industry spends overwhelmingly in opposition to something.”
The AMA opposes the measure
The change is being sought as the Obama administration implements the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). As of March 31, more than 3 million Californians enrolled in commercial “qualified health plans” (QHPs) through the exchange, or used the exchange to enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s health coverage for the poor, according to Covered California.
Premiums for family medical coverage in California have increased by 185 percent since 2002, with monthly premiums for single coverage averaging $572 in 2013, compared with $490 nationally, according to the California HealthCare Foundation.