New options under health reform…

Senator Elaine Alquist had two bills on the agenda at today’s Assembly Health Committee meeting, SB 56 (Alquist), facilitating joint ventures between country health plans, and SB 227 (Alquist) regarding the temporary federal high risk pool in California, for those denied with pre-existing conditions.

Senator Alquist explained that SB 56 would provide better, more affordable choices to Californians, by allowing county-based plans to integrate and/or offer regional or statewide networks. With their cost-effective provider networks these plans use, and their very low levels of overhead, these local, public health plans have the potential to be a viable coverage alternative for the uninsured. The bills specifically clarify the ability of these county health plans (LA Care, San Francisco Health Plan, Alameda Alliance for Health, etc.) to form joint ventures to serve the uninsured.

Jim Gross representing the county health plans indicated that it would allow them to provide “competition in the marketplace.” Beth Capell of Health Access California, said there was a “natural evolution” that parents of children in the Healthy Families plan, for example, could also enroll in the county-based plans that some children are in. She also pointed out this could allow patients in these plans to be able to access providers in other counties, especially if they live in one county but work in another. Willie Pelote, AFSCME, indicated that this concept has been developed over several years in California, and it now is ripe under health reform. Others in support included Planned Parenthood, Congress of California Seniors, and Californians for Disability Rights. The motion was passed with 11 votes and the bill will now move to Appropriations committee.

Next, Senator Alquist brought forth SB 227, which works in companion with Assemblyman Villines’ bill, AB 1887, to set up a federally-funded high risk pool. Senator Alquist indicated that there was $761 million available for the state of California to help cover those denied for pre-existing conditions, through 2014 (when insurer will no longer be able to make such denials.)

Lesley Cummings, executive director of the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (MRMIB), which runs the current state “high-risk” pool, spoke first on behalf of the Administration in support of the bill. She said that for the last 18 years California has had a high risk pool, it has been “woefully underfunded,” and she looks forward to the new resources.

Beth Capell testified next stressing the importance of getting the system operational as soon as possible, as federal funds will start to become available on July 1, 2010 (and will be available through Jan 1, 2014). Gary Passmore, of Congress of California Seniors remarked that this bill would be the bridge to health reform in 2014. Other testimony includes CA Hospital Association, CA Medical Association, CA Association of Health Plans, Alzheimers Assocaition, AARP, HealthNet, CA Chronic Care Coalition, Californians for Disability Rights, Academy of Family Physicians, and others.

Assemblyman Jones, fresh off his election as the Democratic nominee for insurance commissioner, added his voice of support as a co-sponsor, and his gratitude to Senator Alquist for “stepping up to the plate.” Chair Monning also thanked the Senator for her work, as well as, everyone else working on implementation. After the bill was passed with a motion of 10 votes and will now move on to the appropriations committee.

Thanks to Nellie Price and Beth Capell for their report from committee.

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

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