Igniting a Reaction

igniting a reactionA small army of demonstrators hits the streets of Lodi as Blue Shield proceeds with boosting health insurance rates

By Joe Goldeen – January 18, 2011 – Record Staff Writer

LODI – Demonstrators chose the nation’s day to honor slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by staging a peaceful protest outside an insurance company that is under fire for not backing down on its intent to increase health coverage premiums up to 59 percent.

“Of all forms of inequity,” King once said, “injustice in health care is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

The demonstration, organized by Rose Roach of the River Delta Field Office of the California School Employees Association, targeted Blue Shield of California, which operates a service center employing 1,100 workers in southeast Lodi.

Many of the three dozen protesters who stood quietly holding signs at the driveway entrances to Blue Shield were CSEA members employed by Lodi Unified School District. They were joined by supporters and community activists promoting single-payer health care akin to Medicare for everyone.

“Is this a justified increase? No. They make us feel like it is our fault,” Roach said.

“We understand a small group of people today aren’t going to make them drop their rate, but we want them to know people are watching. People will die, because this will force them to drop their health insurance,” she said.

Vickie Gonzales, a paraeducator with Lodi Unified who works with autistic children, held a hand-painted sign that declared: “Free Market Health Care Costs Lives.” Working 30 hours a week, Gonzales said she can’t afford the health insurance premiums offered through her employer, which was hit with an 18 percent increase.

Gonzales, a single mother with a chronic health condition, has a minor daughter who is covered through the state’s Healthy Families program.

“It would be close to $350 (a month) for two people. There’s no way I could afford that when I bring in less than $1,500 a month,” Gonzales said, noting she’s been faced with the choice of feeding her daughter or purchasing an inhaler to control her own asthma.

In a recent statement discussing the rate increases, Blue Shield said it expects to have lost $10 million to $20 million on its individual health plan business in 2010 and to lose $20million to $30 million this year. Its costs for hospitals, physicians and prescription drugs have risen an average of 15 percent annually each of the past threeyears.

“Our premiums are rising because of the rapid increase in health care expenses for our members. Reducing medical costs must be an urgent national priority for health coverage to be affordable for the vast majority of Americans,” Blue Shield Chairman and CEO Bruce Bodaken said in the statement.

Blue Shield said it has taken steps to subject its rates to an independent actuarial review and make refunds to policyholders if the actuary finds the rates are unsound.

Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or jgoldeen@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/goldeenblog.

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110118/A_NEWS/101180319/-1/a_life

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