In tight-fisted Legislature, some wins, some losses…

AB786 Moves To The Floor: A bill making it easier for consumers to comparison shop for individual health insurance policies passed through the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, on a straight party line vote.

Democrats favored the development of an apples-to-apples approach to buying and selling insurance because it would help eliminate “junk insurance,” policies that at first may seem legitimate, but which offer very little coverage when medical claims are filed.

Republicans, on the other hand, voted against AB 786 (Jones), which specifically requires California regulators to come up with standard categories under which consumers could compare various features that various insurance companies sell – with transparency.

The bill, authored by Assembly Health Committee Chairman Dave Jones (D) and sponsored by Health Access California, is especially important in California, where there is a high number of small business owners and entrepreneurs who must shop for their own health insurance, rather than obtaining it from an employer.

The bill will now advance to the full Assembly for a floor vote next week….

More Appropriations Reports: Only half of the 450 bills heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee survived the legislative panel’s especially close scrutiny of potential costs to the state. Committee Chair Kevin de Leon somberly opened the hearing by noting that California is at a perilous crossroads of having to cut costs and possibly programs to backfill an estimated budget deficit of about $24 billion. Many of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts so far have targeted public programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, threatening to leave as many as 2 million people without any health care coverage.

Assemblyman Jim Nielson, vice chair of Assembly Appropriations, was succinct in his opening comments: “For the next couple of years, we urge all interests to exercise restraint in coming to the Legislature for (program funding.) To everyone who has ideas that cost money, we urge you to just say “no.’”

Outcomes were mixed for other important health care legislation that Health Access is tracking through the Legislature:

  • AB 2 (De La Torre) would prohibit the cancellation or rescission of individual health care coverage when time comes to pay the medical bills. It passed on a party line vote and will now go to the full Assembly.
  • AB 244 (Beall) would require health plans and insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse to the same extent they cover other health conditions, creating parity. The measure advanced to the full Assembly.
  • AB 542 (Feuer) would withhold payment for “never events,” shorthand for neglectful medical care and mistakes that never should happen to anyone under medical care. It passed on a party line vote, advancing to the Assembly floor.
  • SB 227 (Alquist), which requires insurers to accept members of a high-risk pool of health consumers, passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee and goes next to the full Senate.

Some measures that were held in Appropriations include:

  • AB 1314 (Jones) and SB 56 (Alquist), bills that were vehicles for continuing conversations on comprehensive health reform, were held in Appropriations committees in both houses.
  • AB 29 (Price), which would have extended to 27 the age that children can be considered dependents for purposes of health coverage, was held in Appropriations Committee.
  • AB 214 (Chesbro) would have required group health plans and insurers to cover durable medical equipment at parity with other health benefits. It was held in Appropriations.
  • SB 810 (Leno), which would establish a single-payer health care system for California, was held by the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mark Leno (D) said he would bring it up again next year.
  • SB 341 (DeSaulnier) sought to have University of California experts evaluate scientific studies on the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals – and their possible adverse reactions. The information would then have been publicized on a website. It was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Those measures held in Appropriations could be available for passage in January 2010.

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

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