Snippets from the Senate Health Committee..

* In their rhetoric, more legislators are using the concern about rising health care costs to make their arguments on pending bills. Sen. Mark Leno (D) presented a bill Wednesday that would require youths through age 18 to wear sports safety helmets on ski and snowboard slopes. Serious head injuries are expensive and can require lenghty hospitalization, he said, and, yes, those big hospital bills will somehow get spread around into everyone’s health insurance premiums.

A witness testifying in favor of the bill, SB 880, authored by Sen. Yee, described how, as an 18-year, she went at a smallish snowboard jump at too slow of a speed and her board flew up in the air and crashed down on her head, knocking her unconscious. She was in a coma on life support for three-and-a-half weeks, lost sensation on her left side and needed years of therapy to recover. Now she visits schools to share her story as a cautionary tale.

Leno told his colleagues: “One-half of all skiing deaths are caused by head injuries. If we pass this bill and require safety helmets, we will decrease the number of expensive serious head injuries, thereby reducing health care premiums for everyone.”

SB 880 passed, 6 to 2, and heads now to the appropriations committee.

* In the same Senate Health Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Dave Cox (R) argued in favor of SB 1109, which would go after tobacco tax funds for preschool activities for children ages 0 to 5. Cox passionately declared that the Proposition 10 revenue would be better spent on anything but the “First Five” programs for California preschoolers that the voters approved.

His strongest argument? “If kids don’t have health care, the music circles and play groups won’t make much difference,” Cox said. “Circle time, movie nights, yoga, play groups…none of that makes sense. Not when the money could be used for health care.”

His bill failed, however, due to strong opposition testimony as to the benefits California’s little ones are getting firing up their synapses with the lessons that the First Five programs provide.

* Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) was presenting his bill, SB 1169, a simple one, to require insurance companies to give tracking numbers to treatment authorizations for mental health. The idea is to make it easier for people and providers to settle claims by making them easier to track through the insurance system.

“Tracking is not a revolutionary idea,” said a supporter of the bill. “If we make a hotel reservation, we get a confirmation number in case the hotel clerk says you have no room reserved. UPS uses tracking numbers….”

Insurance lobbyists, however, gave their usual objection: If you impose any more bureaucratic or paperwork requirements , the costs will end up going up for consumers. In other words, premiums will rise for everyone.

But Lowenthal backed the insurers into a corner, figuratively, by revealing he knew insurers already had a tracking number system. The hitch was that the companies wanted that tracking system to be internal — not known to anyone outside the firm.

Why not share? asked Lowenthal. If you do, he said, then you can’t go on saying “‘Things get lost…we can’t find your claim or authorization.’ That won’t have to happen anymore.”

With that, SB 1169 pased, by a vote of 7 to 2.

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

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