Mercury Is Poison


Now that we’re about to entrust health reform to the tender mercies of the insurance industry, it’s sobering to see the skullduggery that one of California’s largest auto insurers is trying to pull on the state’s drivers.

If you want a preview of what health insurers may do to premiums if they’re forced to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions, ” target=”_hplink”>revised summary.  This time the title was, “Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage.”  This time it began, “Changes current law to permit insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers who have continuously maintained their auto insurance coverage…”

Like magic, “increase” and “raise” had disappeared.  Consumer watchdog Harvey Rosenfeld, who wrote Proposition 103, charged Brown with caving to pressure from Mercury, which contributed $13,000 to his campaign for attorney general.  When San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci called Brown’s office to ask the reason for the rewrite, Brown spokesman Scott Gerber ” target=”_hplink”>legalese – “notwithstanding section 1861.02(c)” – that would still supersede Prop 103.  As the ” target=”_hplink”>he was caught – when complaining about her article, he stupidly e-mailed her editor a transcript of the phone call – he was forced to quit.

Mercury, of course, denies that it wants to raise anyone’s premiums; they say it’s all about discounts.  The last time they tried this, via legislation they sponsored in Sacramento, a Court of Appeal blew the whistle: “The premiums for policyholders who, because of their characteristics do not qualify for a particular discount must be surcharged in an amount equal to the total of the discounts given to the policyholders that qualified for the discount” (italics added).  That may be one reason why, in a February 2009 legal filing before the State Insurance Commissioner, the California Department of Insurance ” target=”_hplink”>Campaign for Consumer Rights, if Mercury’s proposition passes, California insurers will be able to increase rates on anyone who’s had a lapse in coverage by as much as 40 percent, even if they weren’t driving when they didn’t have insurance.

Makes you wonder what Wellpoint or CIGNA will do to health insurance premiums once everyone has to pay them.  That ban on excluding people for pre-existing conditions may not turn out to be such a bargain.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@jewishjournal.com” title=”martyk@jewishjournal.com”}.

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