Getting in gear on health reform…

Consumer Reports Health’s Cover America Tour, a nationwide road trip chronicling the difficulties many American families face getting affordable, high quality health care, rolled into Sacramento Tuesday, with a message around state and federal reform.

Consumers Union staff, including former Health Access staffer Meg Bohne (pictured), had driven an RV over 12,000 miles before coming to Sacramento, talking with health care consumers and videotaping their stories with the health care system. Among their stops on the way back to the East Coast will be Denver and Minneapolis, as they make the case to elected leaders of all parties and political stripes of the need for health care reform next year.

But the RV stop in Sacramento also focused on what we in California can do–not just next year, but in the next few days and weeks.

Health care reform may have stalled earlier this year, but there are pending bills in the California legislature that can help our state move down the road to reform, that can help Californians have more confidence in the quality of their care and their coverage.

Those bills include:
* HOSPITAL INFECTIONS: SB 1058 (Alquist) and SB 158 (Florez), geared to reducing hospital acquired infections. SB 1058 would mandate public disclosure of hospital acquired infection rates, and require hospitals to screen high risk patients to identify those colonized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, and to take special precautions with those who test positive to prevent its spread to other patients. SB 158 gives the Department of Health Services additional authority to investigate infection outbreaks and complaints about lax infection control practices. The Department of Health Services estimates that as many as 9,600 Californians die from hospital infections annually, and it is esimated that hospital infections add a staggering $3 billion to California’s health care bill every year.

Speaking at the press conference was Cindy Gaston of Elverta (pictured speaking), who developed a serious MRSA infection following the C-section delivery of her child. She had to be rushed back to the hospital a few days after giving birth when her surgical incision burst open and it became clear that she was very sick. She required multiple surgeries to clean out the infection and ended up staying another ten days in the hospital while undergoing IV antibiotic treatments. Cindy was surprised by the sometimes poor infection control practices she observed at the hospital and how little information she was provided about how to prevent the spread of her infection to others. She has had three outbreaks of her antibiotic-resistant infection since she was discharged from the hospital and hopes that she won’t become sick again.
* TRANSPARENCY: AB 2967 (Lieber) would require public reporting of information about the cost and quality of care delivered by health care providers in the state. It would establish the Health Care Cost and Quality Transparency Committee to develop a plan for making cost and quality data available to the public. The goal is to provide the public and purchasers with data to seek more cost effective care that improves patient outcomes and to enable hospitals and other care providers to compare themselves with their peers and identify areas where improvement is needed.

* HEALTH INSURANCE STANDARDS: SB 1522 (Steinberg) would set standards to help consumers compare health insurance products and weed out “junk” insurance plans.

Under existing California law, health insurers can sell products characterized as health insurance that cover only hospitals or only physicians. Health insurers can sell products that have no maximum out of pocket cap, exposing consumers to hundreds of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs in the case of catastrophic illness. Insurers can sell health insurance that covers only a small fraction of the actual cost of care.

SB 1522 would help eliminate “junk” insurance by requiring health insurance to cover doctors, hospitals, preventive care, and any existing statutory mandates, and to have a cap on out-of-pocket expenses. The bill also requires the Department of Insurance and the Department of Managed Care to create five coverage categories that would help organize the insurance market so that consumers can shop more knowledgably. Insurers would be required to offer benchmark plans to assist with apples to apples comparisons.

Senator Elaine Alquist (pictured above and left), who is on the Senate Health Committee, also spoke on her hospital infection bill, as well as the need for health care reform in general.
In an “MTV:Cribs” moment (see picture left), the Senator also toured the RV, as did Daniel Zingale and Richard Figueroa, who both work in the Governor’s office and advice the him on health policy, and who came by to watch the press conference.
These bills are up for final floor votes in the California Legislature in the next week and a half. If they pass that final legislative hurdle, then their fate will be in Governor Schwarzenegger’s hands, where he can sign the bills, help consumers and help lay a better foundation for health reform–or just leave us with the deteriorating status quo in California.
More information about the Cover America Tour can be found at: http://www.coveramericatour.org/.
Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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