Dave Jones to run for Attorney General

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced Thursday that he’ll run for state attorney general in 2018.

Dave Jones (Oct.2015)That could set up an interesting situation, as Gov. Jerry Brown might well have to appoint someone in 2017 to fill the rest of current Attorney General Kamala Harris’ term if she’s successful in her campaign to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer next year.

Having a statewide constitutional officer’s hat already in the ring for the office could nudge Brown to appoint a “caretaker” – someone not inclined to seek election in 2018 – to the potential vacancy should Harris go to the Senate.

But plenty of others covet the post, too. Those who’ve filed statements of intention to run for attorney general in 2018 – not a commitment, just a sort of placeholder that lets them keep money in campaign committees – include former state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward, who has $183,405 banked for the race; former state Sen. Lou Correa; D-Santa Ana, who has $384,982 banked; former Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-La Canada Flintridge, who has $657,535 banked; Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, who has $2,980 banked but other money spread across other committees (including one for a 2016 state Senate run); and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, a Republican who has $74,975 banked.

Jones starts the race with $2.6 million cash on hand in his prior campaign account, which can be used for the Attorney General race, and a base of support throughout the state, according to a news release from campaign consultant Parke Skelton.

Jones, 53, was a Sacramento councilman from 1999 to 2004 and a state assemblyman from 2004 to 2011, when he began the first of his two terms as insurance commissioner.

“I am very excited at the prospect of working to make California’s communities safer,” he wrote in an email to prospective supporters Thursday. “I will hold accountable all who commit crimes, including corporations, corporate leaders, and public officials who violate the public trust. I will continue my work protecting consumers. And I will work hard to help all Californians succeed in an economy that is increasingly characterized by haves and have nots.”

Jones wrote that his Insurance Department already investigates major insurance crimes and protects consumers, his more than 300 law enforcement officers making more than 3,800 arrests since he began his tenure there and working closely with district attorneys across the state. He wrote that he’s starting his campaign so early due to “the reality of the cost of campaigning in California and the amount of Super PAC money likely to be spent against me by special interests.”


‘Dancing hamster arrested on insurance fraud charges’

Best headline ever, no? It arrived in my inbox a few minutes ago atop a press release from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, announcing the arrest of Leroy Barnes, 27, of Los Angeles, known as one of the dancing hamsters in Kia commercials.

Barnes faces insurance fraud charges related to his alleged collection of state disability insurance benefits under false pretenses.

“Fraudulently collecting disability benefits is not only illegal, it disrespects legitimately injured Californians who are unable to work,” Jones said as solemnly as one can in a news release involving dancing hamsters.

Jones’ release says Barnes in June 2010, while employed as a dancer for John Cossette Productions, was struck by a piece of ceiling that fell on him during a sound check; Barnes then received state disability insurance benefits from September 2010 to September 2011, totaling more than $51,000.

But while he stated he was unemployed during the year he received that money, detectives discovered evidence that he actually starred in a Kia car commercial playing the role of a dancing hamster, according to the news release. He also performed in a rap group called The Rej3ctz under the alias MoWii, assisting in recording the song “Cat Daddy,” and also worked as a backup dancer for Madonna, Kelly Rowland, and Chris Brown under the name Hypnosis.

I’m not sure which dancing-hamster Kia ad Barnes appeared in, so I have no choice but to offer a few for your review; watch carefully to see if any of the hamsters seem to be limping.




Money matchups: Other statewide offices

My article in today’s editions discussed fundraising by 2014 candidates for governor, treasurer, controller and secretary of state, but here are a few other California-wide details for your wonky pleasure.

Attorney General Kamala Harris raised $1.76 million in the first half of 2013, and had $2.7 million cash on hand as of June 30 with about $14,000 in outstanding debts. Harris won a very close race in 2010 – eight-tenths of a point, with rival Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley not conceding until three weeks after Election Day. As of now, however, nobody has filed a statement of intention to run against her in 2014.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom raised $392,000 in the first half of this year and spent about $148,000, leaving him with $1.3 million cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had almost $34,000 in outstanding debts at that time. But Newsom, at least for now, faces little competition. Santa Monica businessman Howard Leonhardt, an independent, has a campaign website but I don’t see that he’s filed any papers with the Secretary of State; Republican Robert Bates hasn’t filed any fundraising reports. Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, has a committee open for the 2014 lieutenant governor race, but it has only $747; he’s amassing money for a 2016 state Senate bid. And Republican congressmen Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy still have 2014 lieutenant governor campaign committees open but aren’t expected to give up their House seats to run the race. Neither raised any money this year; Denham had $169,000 cash on hand and McCarthy had $72,000 as of June 30.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson raised $183,000 in the first half of this year and spent almost $99,000, leaving him with almost $133,000 cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had almost $11,000 in outstanding debts at that time. So far, nobody has filed a statement of intention to run against him in 2014.

Likewise, nobody has filed a statement of intention to challenge Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who raised about $490,000 in the first half of this year and spent about $137,170, leaving him with almost $920,000 cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had about $10,000 in outstanding debts at that time.


California state officials speak on SCOTUS ruling

California’s foremost elected officials are speaking out about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Today’s dramatic Supreme Court ruling removes the last roadblock to fulfilling President Obama’s historic plan to bring health care to millions of uninsured citizens.”

From Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom:

“There is a healthcare crisis in this country, a crisis with profound implications for each citizen in every city and county in America. Today’s United States Supreme Court decision, which upheld the individual insurance requirement, is just a start. But the decision allowing states to opt-out of Medicaid expansion still leaves millions of Americans vulnerable.

“We can — and must – act now to do more to offer healthcare access to all. We do not have time to stand on the sidelines. There is a crisis but there is also a solution.

“Americans know it is much less expensive to keep people healthy than it is to treat their sickness. This is particularly true when much of the treatment for uninsured Americans is provided in costly emergency rooms. Without a universal healthcare plan, our emergency rooms will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis and citizens will pay the price with higher taxes, more expensive premiums, hidden costs and increased fees.

“While serving as mayor of San Francisco, I saw first hand the impact of the healthcare crisis on the insured, uninsured, businesses, emergency rooms and municipal coffers.
We decided to address this crisis head-on and launched the country’s first local universal health care program, Healthy San Francisco. It is blueprint that can be replicated by cities and counties across the nation. A public plan can work. San Francisco is proving it.

“Since being implemented, more than 80 percent of uninsured San Franciscans have received medical coverage. Healthy San Francisco is not health insurance, instead it provides access to affordable basic and ongoing health care services for the uninsured, regardless of immigration status, employment status, or pre-existing medical conditions.

“We must not wait for the federal government to take the lead in the wake of the today’s Supreme Court decision. Cities and counties across the nation, such as Dallas, Indianapolis, and Miami, have already taken steps to establish healthcare service access programs. California must move forward with innovative programs, like Healthy San Francisco, that provide access to healthcare and not simply access to healthcare insurance.”

From Attorney General Kamala Harris:

“Today’s decision is a historic victory for Californians, for the President, and for the country. The Affordable Care Act repairs a healthcare system badly in need of reform and ensures that every American has access to affordable health care. We never doubted the constitutionality of this law, and it is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Californians.”

More, after the jump…
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Assembly panel OKs new insurance regulation

Health-care reform advocates are pleased that the Assembly Health Committee voted 12-7 yesterday to approve AB 52, which would give the state Insurance Commissioner the power to reject excessive health insurance rate increases.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones – who sponsored the bill carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles – said health insurers regularly announce premium increases that far surpass the rate of medical inflation, sometimes several per year. Regulators in 20 states have authority not only to review rate hikes but to reject the excessive ones, and Jones and Feuer believe it’s time California joins them.

“Since I took office, Californians have made it exceedingly clear that they want me to reject excessive rate increases, but I do not have this authority as Insurance Commissioner – AB 52 can change this,” Jones said in a news release today, noting he had introduced this legislation three times while serving in the Legislature.

Feuer said the Assembly Health Committee “recognized that Californians should not have to depend on the whim of an insurance company to halt a major rate increase. This was a crucial first step toward getting AB 52 signed into law, but until that happens, California families will continue to live in fear that they are just one rate hike away from no longer being able to afford health insurance.”

Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright called the committee’s approval of the bill “a good first step toward the rate relief that Californians so desperately need, as we continue to stuggle with the one-two punch of an economic recession and rising health care costs.” California needs this authority especially to keep insurers from gaming the system before other consumer protections are put in place in 2014, he added.

Carla Saporta, health program manager at The Greenlining Institute, said the claim that patients will lose access to care if state regulators stop insurers from price gouging “is a classic robber-baron mentality.”

“Groups that truly represent healthcare consumers and small businesses – including minority small businesses which have been badly hurt in the current economy – can see through the spin,” she said. “That’s why community clinics such as La Maestra in San Diego and the Korean Health Education Information & Research Center in Los Angeles have joined with many ethnic chambers of commerce and business organizations to support this bill. Small business owners and organizations have told us that they want us to fight for AB 52, and we will.”

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Natomas – a pediatrician by trade – joined with the committee’s Republicans to oppose the bill.

“Dr. Pan has dedicated his life to building a healthier California by making real, on-the-ground improvements to our health care system,” Brian O’Hara, Pan’s press secretary, said today. “He knows that if we’re going to actually improve health outcomes and reduce costs, we need more innovations, not regulations, so at this point AB 52 does not make for a balanced approach.”

The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.


Advocates crow as Blue Shield yanks rate hike

Sacramento and Washington are abuzz over Blue Shield of California’s announcement today that it’s withdrawing its plan for a May 1 increase in health insurance rates for individual policyholders.

Blue ShieldIt would’ve been the third such rate hike since October; the three hikes combined would have raised rates by as much as 87 percent for some of its 200,000 policyholders, according to the California Department of Insurance. San Francisco-based Blue Shield has said rising health care costs forced the previous rate hikes; it said it lost $27 million on individual policies last year and expects more such losses this year. The cancelled increase will save members about $35 million to $40 million in added premiums.

Health-care affordability advocates say federal and state health-care reform laws are responsible for the insurer backing down.

“This latest withdrawal by Blue Shield shows that scrutiny matters. The new spotlight on rising health insurance rates, placed by the new federal health law and aggressive implementation at the state level, is having an impact of saving consumers money,” Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said in a news release.

But while the Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance now have the authority to review whether or not proposed rate increases are excessive, unjustified or unfairly discriminatory, neither department has the authority to reject such an increase.

“This is the third insurer that has withdrawn or reduced rates as a result of additional scrutiny and requests that they justify those rates. New federal and state laws now make these rate hikes public, but we need to take the next step, to pass the rate regulation bill now pending in the California legislature,” he said. “Blue Shield says they want a focus on the medical costs driving health care costs – but that’s what rate review and regulation would help do.”

And that’s what California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says he’s intent on doing. He wants to bring California in line with the 20 states in which insurance regulators have authority not only to review rate hikes but to reject the excessive ones; he has sponsored AB 52, carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, to give that authority to his office and the DMHC. (Actually, the bill right now just declares the Legislature’s intent to make such a change, but I hear it’ll be amended in the next few days so that it would actually do the deed.)

Dave JonesJones issued a news release today saying he appreciates Blue Shield’s support of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted last year, and of the health benefits exchange California is moving to enact under it by 2014. The law lets the Insurance Commissioner recommend which insurers will be allowed to sell insurance in this exchange, and “Blue Shield’s decision to refrain from a third rate increase is certainly consistent with their desire to participate,” Jones said.

“But one of the missing pieces of the federal healthcare reform is the authority to reject excessive rate hikes,” he added. “Today’s news is a welcome development and certainly a relief for several hundred thousand of Blue Shield policyholders in California, but it reminds us all that insurance companies hold all the cards when it comes to setting rates. Blue Shield policyholders still had to pay the first two rate increases. Those with health insurance are at the mercy of insurance company decisions to raise rates multiple times each year. That’s why we need to pass Assembly Bill 52.”

Feuer issued a statement today too, saying “(f)amilies and businesses should not have to depend on the whim of an insurance company to halt a major rate increase. Without a robust rate approval process in place, Californians will continue to experience these outrageous increases.”

Members of Congress were quick to weigh in on today’s developments as well.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, issued a statement calling Blue Shield’s withdrawal of its premium increase “good news for Californians who faced losing their insurance because of this rate hike. While California families are still suffering from the recession, they shouldn’t also have to worry about yet another hit to their pocketbooks.”

And Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said Blue Shield is putting its money where its mouth is. “As one of the few insurers that has worked collaboratively toward health care reform, today’s actions show that its not just talk – they’re willing to put their money behind their words. I commend them for taking this action. While other insurers may be less willing to make moves like this voluntarily, the good news is that the tools enacted in the new health reform law will force them to be more honest and forthcoming.”