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Weeks ago I diaried We're Going to Do It! Rate Regulation is Going on the Ballot, although I wasn't sure they'd quite hit their target of 800,000 signatures.

Now, via email I received today from Consumer Watchdog, I see that they did just that.

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Unbelievable! Today, we make history.

Thanks to your help this morning we are submitting 800,000 signatures of California voters to qualify our ballot petition that forces health insurance companies to justify their rates and get permission before raising rates. We will give California voters the chance to decide their own fate in November and stop out of control health insurance premiums.

This is a big day for patients and for direct democracy in California.  Thanks for all of your support. If you are as inspired by this all-out, state-wide effort as I am, please take a moment to contribute to the campaign to pass our ballot measure.

What will happen if this initiative is enacted into law?

The ballot measure:

 Requires health insurance companies to publicly disclose and justify, under penalty of perjury, proposed rate changes before they take effect.

 Makes every document filed by an insurance company to justify a rate increase a public record.

 Requires public hearings on proposed rate increases.

 Gives Californians the right to challenge excessive and unfair premium rate increases.

 Prohibits health, auto and home insurers from considering Californians' credit history or prior insurance coverage when setting premiums or deciding whether to offer coverage.

 Gives the elected insurance commissioner authority to reject unjustified rate increases.

So yeah! Californians will now have a chance to tell health insurance companies off in November 2012. We won't be able to get rid of them altogether -- yet -- but after November we will have them shaking in their car elevators.

Of course Golden Staters will have to wade through a myriad of ads against the initiative, undoubtedly financed generously by the usual suspects.

Paid for by Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, a coalition of doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and California employers. Major funding by United Healthcare Insurance Company, Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Health Net, Inc., and Blue Shield of California.
Their main line of attack will be that there are Doctors Associations and Hospital Organizations who oppose this measure, because surely no one at this point is going to believe anything a health insurance company like Anthem Blue Cross has to say.

If this initiative can withstand the onslaught -- and I think it has a very good chance -- this will have demonstrated what a relatively small group of dedicated people can do to really attack the one percent's business cartels. Once there's proof of concept  -- showing these battles can be won -- money will most likely flow to the best causes.

On our side, the campaign raised at least $1,500,000 to get this on the ballot (1). It came mainly from a few people willing to donate large amounts; in particular Tom Steyer, listed at the bottom on the JustifyTheRates website, was a major contributor.

The irony of one-percenters being necessary to do battle against the one percent is not lost on me. But there are plenty of one-percenters who can see the forest for the trees. (After all, there are about 15,000 0.01%-ers (the one percent of the one percent!) nationwide; all it takes is a few of those 15,000 to bankroll a number of fights like this one)

Collecting 800,000 signatures is no easy task, even in California with it's 36,000,000 people (don't get me started about the Herculean task of collecting 1,000,000 signatures in a Wisconsin with less than 6,000,000 people, as the recall Walker campaign recently did solely with volunteers -- possibly one of the most stunning political achievements of our time).

How did Consumer Watchdog do it? They used a three-prong attack to get signatories: volunteers, individual petition downloads with US mail backs, and paid signature gatherers. Unfortunately for future efforts, this signature collecting drive didn't demonstrate the likelihood of getting a similar news tasks done mainly via the Internet and volunteers. Or on the cheap.

I  spoke with Jaime Court, the President of Consumer Watchdog, today. He told me that a supermajority of the signatures were still obtained via paid signature gatherers, while less than one-hundred thousand (and probably somewhere around 50,000) were gathered via Internet downloads and mailbacks. The rest were collected from volunteers going out with petitions. Mr. Court did not have a detailed breakdown, but a reasonable guess might be 50,000 downloads - 100,000 from volunteers - 650,000 via paid gatherers. It's safe to say that for the forseeable future, unless a ballot initiative propelled by a Wisconsin-like popular uprising arises, substantial monies are always going to be needed.

Still, 50,000 Internet mailbacks is 50,000 signatures that don't need to be paid for, and I could see a more concerted effort -- coupled with a more populist, better understood cause -- doubling or tripling that number.

Which brings us to the future.  

I have argued in a previous diary that the next logical step in terms of California health care is to bring -- or at least threaten to bring -- a single payer initiative to the California ballot in 2014. I leave to my betters to determine what the exact text of that initiative should be, but this successful effort by Consumer Watchdog about an important yet arcane and non-sexy topic, coupled with a hoped-for victory in November, will be proof beyond doubt that it can be done. If the California legislature continues to refuse to do its job, we will just have to do it for them. And we just showed them how.

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(1) Mr. Court also provided me with this information when I spoke to him.

Originally posted to jpmassar on Fri May 18, 2012 at 08:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by California politics, SFKossacks, Single Payer: The Fight for Medicare for All, Healthcare Reform - We've Only Just Begun, and Single Payer California.

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