California has some of the strongest patient health protections in the country, but they often carry such weak enforcement power that insurance companies find it cheaper to pay the fines for violating the law than to provide the health care patients are entitled to under it.
A new bill introduced Wednesday aims to change that by increasing the minimum penalties insurers have to pay for violations by a factor of 10, from $2,500 to $25,000.
“That will create a stronger incentive to follow the law and not just look at fines as a nuisance or a cost of doing business,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, author of the bill, SB 858.
Some of the original fine amounts were set in 1975, when, Wiener notes, the price of gasoline was around $0.59 a gallon and chicken was $0.59 a pound. Meanwhile, in the last two decades, average monthly health premiums in California have quadrupled.
It’s only fair that the penalties insurers face rise in step with premium increases and inflation, says Diana Douglas, policy manager for Health Access, a consumer advocacy group sponsoring the legislation.