Waiting for water…

It’s the Governor’s deadline day for signing or vetoing bills, and crucial health reform bills are being held hostage under a veto threat over the unrelated issue of water.

Several key health measures hang in the balance today, Sunday, October 11th, the deadline for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign or veto over 700 bills on his desk. The legislature considered many bills of importance to health care consumers this year (a full list is available at http://www.health-access.org/item.asp?id=158 ), and many of them made it to the Governor’s desk.

It’s outrageous that the Governor is taking bills on health and other key areas as hostages in order to extract concessions on unrelated water issues. California consumer and patients will literally pay a price if the Governor follows through on his veto threat. One measure would draw down over $2 billion in desperately needed federal funds for California ‘s hospitals and children’s coverage. Other consumer protection bills would stop women from being charged more than men, help prevent coverage from being rescinded, and ensure that key services, like maternity and mental health are covered.

We’ll see what happens later today. Here are some of the highlights of the health bills on the Governor’s desk.

FEDERAL FUNDS FOR CALIFORNIA :

With a tough budget year, a struggling health care system, and Medi-Cal rates that are some of the lowest in the nation, there’s an opportunity to draw down over $2 billion in federal matching funds. AB1383(Jones) is especially urgent given the enhanced match under the economic stimulus period of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A veto of this act would be a direct loss of money for both California ’s hospitals and for children’s coverage.

* AB 1383 (Jones): HOSPITAL COVERAGE DIVIDEND FEE – Would, per federal approval, impose a coverage dividend fee on hospitals for the purpose of increased reimbursement and children’s coverage expansion.

KEY CONSUMER PROTECTIONS:

Several important health care bills on the Governor’s desk would provide key consumer protections for patients and needed oversight over health insurers. These are high-profile issues that have been significantly discussed in the national health reform debate, and included in the major health reform proposals in Congress, like H.R. 3200 which also prevents rescission of coverage, gender discrimination, or coverage that doesn’t include such basic benefits as maternity care and mental health.

But any reform measure that emerge from Congress will take years to implement — and California has the opportunity to provide this relief to consumers quickly, and to start the transition to a reformed and improved health system.

Four selected consumer protection bills awaiting the Governor’s action are:

* AB 119 (Jones): GENDER RATING, to prohibit insurers from charging different premium rates based on gender.
* AB 2 (De La Torre): INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF RESCISSIONS, to create an independent review process when an insurer wishes to rescind a consumer’s health policy, create new standards and requirements for medical underwriting, and requires state review before plan approval. Also raises the standard in existing law so that coverage can only be rescinded if a consumer willfully misrepresents his health history.
* AB 98 (De La Torre): MATERNITY COVERAGE, to require all individual insurance policies to cover maternity services.
* AB 244 (Beall): MENTAL HEALTH PARITY, to require most health plans to provide coverage for all diagnosable mental illnesses.

EVEN CONSENSUS BILLS:

While some of these bills are contentious, there are some consumer protections that have a clear consensus and yet still face a veto—for a second year in the row. AB 171 (Jones), to prevent growing abuses of dental credit cards, passed with unanimous bipartisan votes in the Senate and Assembly, and with the support of both consumer advocates and the California Dental Association. Last year, an earlier version of this bill was blanket-vetoed by the Governor in a similar fashion, over unrelated budget issues, despite the bills’ broad support.

* AB 171 (Jones), on DENTAL CREDIT CARDS – 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.

This could be the second year in a row that this common sense consensus measure is vetoed over unrelated issues.

All the bills on this list are supported by Health Access California and other consumer and community organizations, and will be updated regularly and available at www.health-access.org. We’ll post a report, on the blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc, when we know what happens…

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

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