Good bills pass to improve individual market…

HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Thursday, September 10th, 2009

ON PENULTIMATE DAY OF SESSION, ASSEMBLY ADOPTS TWO CRUCIAL HEALTH CARE BILLS FIXING INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE MARKET
* AB2, Bill to Provide Regulation on Rescissions of Insurance Policies, Passes Assembly
* Assembly Also Passes AB98, Adding Maternity Coverage to Individual Policies
* US Census Pegs U.S. Uninsured at 46.3 Million; CA’s Uninsured Rate is 18.5%

* More Updates on blog.health-access.org: The Grim New Census numbers; Liveblogging the Big Speech; Obama’s Big Speech; Last Week of Session; Healthier from Health Reform? Again, Affordability is the Key!; The Full Healthy Families Report, with Updated Info; Gov Will Sign, and No Kids Kicked Off…

* Follow Health Access California on Facebook at www.facebook.com/healthaccess and on Twitter, at @healthaccess, or www.twitter.com/healthaccess for quick updates on budget, bills, and federal health reform. Join our Twitter followers!

SACRAMENTO — Two Assembly bills to ensure fairness and consumer protection for those who buy individual health insurance policies passed the Assembly on Thursday, heading to the Governor’s desk.

AB2 (De La Torre, D) would provide consumer protection for customers who buy individual insurance policies, seek medical attention and then lose their coverage when insurers rescind the policies to avoid paying medical bills.

Specifically, the bill would establish a new procedure for independent review of such policy rescissions. Insurers would not be allowed to rescind coverage without approval from a regulator. Only if it is determined that a customer willfully held back pertinent information about a relevant pre-existing condition would the rescission stand. Assemblyman De La Torre said that insurers should not be allowed to be judge, jury and executioner in such cases, but that an independent review was needed.

The bill would also reform and standardize the questionaire that people fill out when they apply for coverage, another important reform.

The second bill, AB98 (De La Torre, D) adds maternity coverage to mandated health care services that individual policies must cover. Some Republican lawmakers argued against the measure, saying men should not have to share the cost burden to provide coverage for maternity services. However, De La Torre argued that, currently, women share a cost burden of covering standard services such as prostate cancer coverage and medication for men such as Viagra.

Describing his bill as truly representative of family values – and a “civilized California ” – De La Torre estimated that the added expense to ensure that maternity services were included in all individual coverage plans would cost only an added $7 a month for customers.

Both bills passed the Assembly Thursday on concurrance, having already passed the Senate, and so are heading to the Governor’s desk.

Other bills of interest to health advocates (listed on the Health Access website) that passed and are heading to the Governor’s desk, also supported by Health Access California, include:

* AB119 (Jones, D), prohibiting gender discrimination in pricing premiums differently based on gender.
* AB730 (De La Torre, D), would impose fines on insurers unlawfully engaging in post-claims medical underwriting.
* AB108 (Hayashi, D), would impose a 24-month time limit in which insurers have the right to rescind, cancel or limit individual health care policies or charge higher premiums because of fraud once a consumer’s application is approved.
* AB244 (Beall, D) would require most health plans to provide coverage for all diagnosable mental illnesses.
* AB196 (Corbett, D) would require public notice of hospital closure or reduction/elimination of emergency medical services.
* AB171 (Jones, D) would prohibit dentists’ offices from offering high-interest loans to patients while they are under the influence of anesthesia. Would also prohibit dental offices from charging lines of credit before services have been rendered.
* AB1142 (Price, D) would require hospitals, as soon as they have proof of a person’s Medi-Cal eligibility, to provide all information regarding that person’s Medi-Cal eligibility to all other providers.
* AB1269 (Brownley, D) would allow, to the extent that federal financial participation is available, workers with disabilities who are otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal but are temporarily unemployed to elect to remain on Medi-Cal for a period of up to 26 weeks.
* AB 23 (Jones, D) was signed by the governor on May 12, 2009. The law requires insurers to provide notice to individuals eligible for Cal-COBRA that federal funds are available to assist with Cal-COBRA premiums.

NEW CENSUS FIGURES: Meanwhile, as the Assembly adopted fixes for those policy holders in the individual market, new figures were released Thursday showing that the number of uninsured people in the United States continues to rise.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its latest count of the nation’s uninsured, putting the number at 46.3 million in 2008. California ’s uninsured are pegged at 6.7 million for the same year – a number greater than the entire population of the state of Indiana.

When updated to reflect 2009 figures, the numbers undoubtedly will grow. Since 2008, several million more people have lost their jobs, and their employer-based coverage. Even before the recession, the number of uninsured was on an upward trajectory as insurance costs continued to rise.

Nationwide, the number of people covered by private health insurance declined from 202 million to 201 million between 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, those covered by government health insurance rose from 83 million to 87.4 million. And the number of people with job-based insurance dropped from 177.4 million to 176.3 million.

The new figures come the day after President Obama’s address to Congress laying out his health care reform proposal. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll reported a 14-point gain nationally in approval ratings for the President’s health care plans — 67% of those who watched the speech said afterward that they support the President’s health care proposal.

The new Census data shows renewed urgency for health reform for the country, and California. California continues to have one of the worst uninsured rates (18.5%) in the country, and that doesn’t take into account the most recent losses concentrated in California due to the recession, high unemployment, and budget cuts. If anything, the Census numbers underestimate the problem, since they only look at people who are uninsured in a given year, rather than a greater amount of time.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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