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Public officials criticize Kaiser for rate hikes
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OAKLAND  (AP) — One of the state's biggest health insurers, Kaiser Permanente, is drawing complaints from employers who say the company's policies are no longer the quality care bargain they once were.

Kaiser officials reject the criticism, saying it's still a great bargain with prices that are often 10 percent below its rivals, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In recent weeks, though, officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco and at the California Public Employees' Retirement System bristled at Kaiser's latest rate hikes.

Kaiser's premiums for a family in Los Angeles have increased 34 percent in the past five years. City budget official Miguel Santana said he's satisfied with the medical care he receives, but the city's bill is another matter.

"Kaiser takes us for granted, and the frustrating thing is they are not willing to have a discussion about their increases," Santana said.

Many officials are calling for more transparency on costs and pricing and are supporting state legislation, SB746, because it would require more disclosure. Other health care providers across the country are facing increasing pressure to explain rising costs and spending.

For its part, Kaiser says it provides employers detailed data on their medical costs, but it cannot be compared with other insurers because it operates so differently.

Employers and lawmakers are "trying to force us to report information in the same fashion as every other health plan, which basically breaks us apart at the seams," Teresa Stark, Kaiser's director of government affairs, told the newspaper for a story Wednesday. "It is undoing everything about Kaiser Permanente that does make us special. The message is Kaiser, you are doing it all wrong."

Unlike fee-for-service care, Kaiser collects an upfront premium to cover all care. Kaiser runs 37 hospitals nationwide and employs 17,000 doctors.

Officials at CalPERS, the nation's third-largest health care buyer, say Kaiser's premiums have gone up 65 percent since 2007. Other HMO premiums have gone up in that time, but not as much. By comparison, Blue Shield of California went up 50 percent and Anthem Blue Cross increased by 43 percent.