Proposition 45 is Headed Toward Defeat, New PPIC Poll Shows

With Election Day less than two weeks away, a once-popular ballot measure that would allow the state’s insurance commissioner to reject rate hikes proposed by health insurers appears to be headed toward defeat, a new poll shows.

Support for Proposition 45 has declined dramatically since September, according to the Public Policy Institute of California survey. Now, only 39 percent of likely voters said they favor the initiative while 46 percent said they planned to vote against it.

It’s been a remarkable slide for a measure that was leading by more than 4 to 1 early this summer. But insurance companies have raised $55 million to defeat it, including almost $20 million raised just this month. They’ve pumped most of the money into a robust TV and radio ad campaign that is proving insurmountable for consumer advocates who got the measure on the ballot.

“This initiative is in a difficult place right now,” said Mark Baldassare, the PPIC’s president and CEO. “It’s losing support; it’s a complicated issue. There’s a relatively short amount of time left, and there’s substantial opposition.”

Between September and October, opposition to Proposition 45 grew by 5 percentage points among independent voters, 8 percentage points among Democrats and 14 percentage points among Republicans.

Since Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog championed the passage of Proposition 103 in 1988, the state’s elected insurance commissioner has had the power to reject proposed rates for auto and homeowners insurance. And California law requires the state insurance commissioner to review health insurance rate filings but doesn’t give him or her any power to halt excessive increases.

If Proposition 45 passes, that would change for about 6 million holders of individual health-insurance policies and people who get their coverage through small businesses.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Wednesday announced that Anthem Blue Cross plans to impose a nearly 10 percent premium increase for 120,000 members of its small-group health insurance policies. And, he said, the state is “powerless to stop” what he characterized as an unreasonable bump in prices.

Last week, Blue Shield of California wrote a check for a whopping $2.6 million to the No on 45 campaign, which has been flooding California’s television and radio airwaves with ads that some fact-checkers have criticized as misleading.

Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the No on 45 campaign, said she wasn’t surprised by the poll’s results because the more voters learn about the initiative, the more inclined they are to vote against it.

“Proposition 45 is a deceptive measure with unintended consequences,” Swanson said. “It lines the pockets of the people who put it on the ballot, and once voters know about it, they reject it.”

In addition to Proposition 45, Consumer Watchdog is also backing Proposition 46, a ballot measure that would raise California’s four-decade-old cap on medical malpractice awards for “pain and suffering.” But recent polls indicate that measure will also fail.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said Wednesday he thinks Proposition 45 still has a strong chance of passing muster with voters.

“When the public learns that the insurance industry is funding the opposition, support for the measure climbs,” Court said. “We’re never going to have as much money as the insurance companies have, but we still feel we can break through.”

State campaign finance reports indicate that’s a tall order. In the last month alone, opponents of the measure have raised 500 times more money to kill the proposal than supporters have raised to pass it.

The opponents’ ad campaign has claimed that passing Proposition 45 would take away health care decisions from the state’s “new independent commission.” That’s a reference to the board of Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange created by President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Proposition 45, the ads claim, will hand the power to “one politician” taking special-interest money.

The initiative has sparked unusual coalitions, with many liberal Democrats who support Obamacare siding with insurance and business interests in opposing the measure.

At a board meeting in late August, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee and some board members warned that the measure would threaten the state’s ability to implement the health law. They said that if Proposition 45 passed, it would impede the exchange’s ability to negotiate with health insurers over rates and threaten the companies’ participation in the exchange.

Ultimately, however, the board decided to remain neutral on the measure.

The poll surveyed 976 likely voters in California from Oct. 12 to 19. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been campaigning for passage of two other ballot measures, and the PPIC poll showed both initiatives have a good chance of passing.

More than half of likely voters said they support Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond, and a growing number of people support Proposition 2, a proposal to create a new state rainy-day fund.

The poll also showed that Brown maintains a commanding, double-digit lead against his Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari. Fifty-two percent of likely voters said they plan to vote for Brown while 36 percent said they plan to vote for Kashkari.

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