Health and Political Reporters:

Here’s a quick comment to highlight a few of the key health care bills coming up for floor vote this week in the California legislature. For more information, contact Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California, at 916-442-2308 (office) or 916-870-4782 (cell).

KEY HEALTH BILLS GET FULL FLOOR VOTES THIS WEEK
* Highlights: Standards for Insurance & Prohibiting “Junk” Coverage; Review of Rescissions
* Also: Transparency on Cost and Quality of Care; At Least 85% of Premium for Patient Care
* Senate, Assembly to consider bills in next few days, before end-of-week deadline
* Updates throughout the week at the Health Access WeBlog

As the deadline approaches for bills in the California legislature, key bills will be considered that will give health care consumers more confidence in the coverage they have.

“When Californians are increasingly concerned that their care and coverage is not going to be there for them when they need it, the Legislature needs to provide the needed oversight over the health industry to give consumers greater security,” said Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California. “These bills provide needed comfort to consumers now, as well as a potential policy foundation for future health reforms. Some of these concepts came out of California’s ongoing health reform conversation, but deserve to be implemented as quickly as possible, even as we look to revisit broad health reform soon.”

HEALTH BILL HIGHLIGHTS

BELOW are a few highlights of the health bills up for a vote–it will be updated on the Health Access California website as the session continues, at
http://www.health-access.org/advocating/2008_bills.html

Insurer Oversight

* SB 1522 (Steinberg) INSURANCE MARKET STANDARDS will be up on the Senate Floor. It would set a minimum benefit standard for coverage, and weed out “junk” insurance that still leaves people exposed to bankruptcy. It would sort health insurance policies into five coverage categories, ranging from “comprehensive’’ to “catastrophic.’’ Organization of plans into these categories would enable consumers to better track premium, benefits and cost-sharing, and assist consumers in making apples-to-apples comparisons between plans.

“It’s almost impossible for even educated consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons in the confusing individual insurance market. We need minimum standards to prevent the junk coverage that leaves people at severe financial risk, and clear standards that will make it easier for Californians to know what they are buying when signing up for health coverage,” said Wright of Health Access California, the sponsor of AB1522(Steinberg).
* SB 1440 (Kuehl) CAPPING ADMINISTRATION AND PROFIT will also be on the Senate Floor. It would set a minimum medical loss ratio – requiring every insurer to spend at least 85 percent of premiums on patient care. “California consumers need the assurance that they are getting value for their dollar, that their premium dollars are going to health care, not to administative, marketing and profit.” said Wright.
* AB 1945 (De La Torre) INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF RESCISSIONS will be considered on the Assembly floor. It would require health plans to seek approval by an independent review panel under the Department of Managed Health Care or Department of Insurance for each individual rescission. Also up in the Assembly is AB 2549 (Hayashi) that would impose a six-month time limit in which insurers have to rescind individual health care policies once consumers’ applications are approved. “The notion that your coverage can be yanked away from underneath you when you are sick completely undermines the very purpose of health insurance. These bills will help prevent insurer abuses and make these rescissions rare,” said Wright.
Health Provider Transparency

*AB 2967 (Lieber) TRANSPARENCY AND DISCLOSURE will be considered on the Assembly floor. It would require public reporting of cost and quality by doctors, hospitals HMOs and others in the health care industry. “If we have a hope of reducing the increasing cost of health care, we need to get much better information about the cost and quality of care provided by our hospitals and medical groups.” said Wright. “This effort has yielded one of the most interesting coalitions in a long time, with strong support by prominent consumer, labor, and business groups–all purchasers of health care trying to get a better sense of what they are getting for their money.”

Related bills include SB 1300 (Corbett) that would prohibit confidentiality clauses, which keep secret information on pricing and health care quality from consumers, in contracts between providers and insurers; and AB 2146 (Feuer) that would ban providers from billing patients or insurers when they have made an avoidable mistake, such as operating on the wrong person, prescribing the wrong drugs, or leaving foreign objects inside a surgery patient.

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