Educators Protest Blue Shield Rates

educators protestingBy Maggie Creamer

News-Sentinel Staff Writer Lodi News-Sentinel | 9 comments

Vickie Gonzales cannot afford health insurance despite working for seven years as a paraeducator for autistic preschoolers at Lawrence Elementary School. The Lodi Unified School District’s plan is too expensive, she said, and she earns too much money to be covered under Medi-Cal. She pays for her asthma medication out of pocket and hopes that her 14-year-old daughter doesn’t get sick.

“I try not to think about that because I wouldn’t be able to afford it out of pocket. It would probably be financially devastating,” Gonzales said.

She joined about 25 other people in front of Blue Shield on Monday to protest the insurance company’s proposed rate hikes.

Blue Shield recently announced plans to increase some individual health insurance policies by 59 percent.

Members of the California School Employees Association coordinated and led the protest, and organizer Rose Roach said it was especially poignant on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The group gathered at the company’s local offices near Highway 99 and Harney Lane.

Many signs at the rally included a quote from King about health care: “Of all the forms of inequity, injustice in health care is the most shocking and most inhumane.”

“We need to start having a conversation about what we really need to do to make health care a human right and not on the ability to pay,” Roach said.

Blue Shield’s rate hikes will be as high as 59 percent for some customers, but the average annual increase will be 30 percent split evenly over two years, company spokesman Johnny Wong said.

The increases are scheduled to go into effect on March 1.

Wong said he could not comment on today’s protest, but rate increases are not isolated to Blue Shield.

“It’s the rapidly rising costs of medical care, including costs for hospitals, physicians and prescription drugs,” he said.

Retired Stockton teacher Charles Glenn said he attended the protest because he is worried about inequalities in health care. While a small group of people protesting for an hour might not stop the increases, he hopes that he is setting an example.

“If you don’t try, you have no right to complain. We tell that to our children. Why doesn’t it apply to us?” Glenn said.

Teachers should be especially involved in the health care debate because they see first-hand what happens when families struggle with health care costs, said Carol Bailey, a former teacher. She worries that children are not getting the health care they need.

“If you connect all of the dots, children are missing school for preventable medical issues,” she said.

Blue Shield issued a news release earlier this month detailing some of the reasons why it hiked up rates. Specifically in 2010, the company’s hospital costs increased by 15 percent, prescription drugs went up 12 percent and payments to physicians also increased by 9 percent, according to the company.

Some other factors include paying for more health care services and insurance companies picking up more of the tab as deductibles stay the same but the cost of services increases, according to the news release.

Even with the increase, Blue Shield estimates it lost $10 to $20 million in 2010 and will lose $20 to $30 million in 2011 providing individual coverage.

The protest also included some medical providers who say they are fed up with the entire health care system. Susan Arnett works as a physical therapist and is an advocate for a single-payer system or universal health care, so not everyone is dependent on the insurance companies.

“This is for our patients. We care about our patients,” she said.

Even though Gonzales does not have health care, she said it is important to take a stand to prevent other people from losing their coverage. She hopes Blue Shield will come back to the table and reconsider the increases.

Until she can afford insurance, Gonzales said she will continue worrying about how her family will afford everything.

“My daughter needs braces. She need glasses. That’s gonna be hard,” she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodi news.com or read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/city_buzz.

http://www.lodinews.com/news/article_a6542eb0-6cbe-544c-be6e-c67c4b8ebc02.html

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