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Saying the Legislature's existing proposal could exacerbate rate shock, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones unveiled his own proposal Tuesday for dividing California into geographic regions for implementing federal health-care reform.

Jones vowed to appear Wednesday before Senate and Assembly health committees to push his 18-region plan instead of existing legislative proposals for six regions in 2014 and 13 regions in 2015.

"I believe very strongly that we should draw regions in a way that minimizes rate increases," Jones said.

Because costs of providing health care differ among communities, residents could find themselves paying higher or lower premiums based on the extent to which regions drawn by the state differ from those currently used by health insurance firms.

Jones said an analysis by his department shows that the maximum increase based on geography would be 22.6 percent for the Legislature's proposed six-region plan, 25.1 percent for its 13-region plan -- and 8 percent for the 18-region plan crafted by his office.

The gap shrinks if only the average increase, not the maximum increase, is considered among the various proposals: 9.1 percent for the six-region plan, 4.4 percent for the 13-region plan, and 3.5 percent for Jones' proposal.

Geography was the lone issue targeted by Jones' study, but age, family size and essential benefits mandated by the state are other factors that ultimately will affect the cost of premiums.

The legislation Jones is seeking to amend was proposed separately by chairmen of the Assembly and Senate health committees, Democrats Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ed Hernandez of West Covina, respectively.

Pan, in a written statement, suggested that he is open-minded about the number of regions needed.

The Sacramento lawmaker said that "we are working with the Administration and stakeholders to make sure reforms are done right. This includes making sure California has the right number of geographic rating regions."

Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, a nonprofit advocacy group, said he has not reviewed Jones' proposal but that more regions is not necessarily better for consumers.

"We've generally supported a fewer number of larger regions, both to prevent insurance company game-playing, the opportunity for red-lining, and for the opportunity to provide more transparency and simplicity," he said.


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