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California Nurses, Consumers Protest Kaiser Permanente’s Cuts in Care

Kaiser Permanente registered nurses and consumer advocates revealed how the HMO giant has accumulated a reserve that is $21.7 billion – 1626 percent – more than required by the state, while cutting patient care services and raising premiums on consumers.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, California’s largest nurses organization, also announced its endorsement of a measure that will appear on this November’s ballot to regulate health insurance rates in California. The initiative can force refunds to consumers based on such excessive amounts held in reserve.

CNA Treasurer Martha Kuhl, RN noted that California registered nurses regularly “struggle to get our patients the care they need, including people facing financial ruin because of high insurance bills. Too often these struggles are over what the insurance company will pay rather than what is the best care option for patients. This November Californians can confront the bottom line mentality of insurance companies by passing this initiative to rein in these out of control price hikes.”

“Kaiser has given more than $7.1 million against rate regulation because it wants to continue overcharging customers,” said Jamie Court, proponent of the ballot measure and president of Consumer Watchdog.

Kaiser Oakland RN Katy Roemer decried Kaiser’s recent rate hikes, which cost small group policyholders $18 million, and individuals $59 million, while cutting patient services. “Kaiser nurses cannot stand by quietly while Kaiser is hiking rates, cutting care and accumulating vast reserves and using patient care dollars to defeat an initiative that begins to bring some accountability into high prices that insurers impose on patients and families,” said Roemer.
Roemer described a number of ways Kaiser could use the $21.7 billion for the benefit of patients rather than Kaiser executives.

Those include admitting patients who need care rather than blocking admissions, stop using “observation status” to circumvent hospital admission and prevent Medicare penalties when patients discharged too soon return to the hospital, stop sending patients home prematurely placing the burden of complex medical care on families, reverse cuts in patient services, proper nurse staffing of hospital units, and rolling back huge premium increases and co-pays.

Kaiser increased its excess reserve, or tangible net equity, by $8.8 billion in 2013, according to state records. The latest filings show $21.68 billion in “TNE Excess.”

In January Kaiser raised premium rates for individual policyholders by as much as 22 percent and for small business policyholders by as much as 56 percent.

The health insurance rate review and regulation ballot measure on November’s ballot will allow for refunds if consumers have paid excessive rates since November 2012 and requires future rate hikes and benefit cuts to be justified. The initiative allows the state to return excessive reserves to policyholders in the form of lower premiums.

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