HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Wednesday, June 4th, 2003
LEGISLATURE ACTS ON MAJOR HEALTH AND BUDGET ITEMS
* Senate passes SB2 and SB921 as vehicles to dramatically expand health coverage
* Assembly passes AB 232, consumer protections for self-pay hospital patients
* Other key health bills considered, on cost disclosure, & cultural and linguistic care
* Budget vehicles passed; Budget Conference Committee start deliberations.
* MAJOR HEALTH ACCESS EXPANSIONS
This morning, without floor debate except for presentations by the authors, the Senate passed SB 2 (Burton) and SB 921 (Kuehl) on a strict party-line vote, as vehicles for a larger conversation on expanding health care coverage in California. For the first time in a decade, the California legislature has passed multiple bills to comprehensively address the crisis of the uninsured, and has signaled its seriousness in wanting to address this issue. As originally written, SB 2 would require employers to provide health coverage to their workers and their families, or otherwise pay into a state purchasing pool that would do so. SB 921 would have created a publicly-financed single-payer health system for all Californians. Health Access California strongly supported passage of both bills.
While SB 2 and SB 921 passed out of multiple committees in the past few months, both bills were amended, prior to full Senate passage, to remove the substance and leaving the language describing “intent” of the legislature. This allowed the bills to continue to the Assembly without getting hung up on specific details, with the understanding that the details will change anyway through the process. Since the Assembly tonight or tomorrow will vote on other bills on expanding health coverage, it is likely that some of these bills will go to a conference committee. Before that, these Senate bills will be heard in the Assembly Health Committee in June or early July.
* CONSUMER PROTECTIONS FOR HOSPITAL PATIENTS
Last night, the Assembly passed AB 232 (Chan), sponsored by Health Access California, which provide strong consumer protections for self-pay hospital patients, protecting them from the common hospital practice of overcharging the uninsured. The bill would ensure that self-pay hospital patients:
* are given notice about their consumer rights and financial options;
* have the ability to check their eligibility for public health insurance or the hospital’s charity care policy;
* are protected from having their bills being prematurely sent to collections; and
* for low- and moderate-income self-pay patients, are not overcharged beyond the rates set for public insurance programs, specifically Medicare, Medi-Cal, or worker’s compensation.
While supported by a broad range of consumer, labor, and community groups, these first-in-the-nation consumer protections were actively opposed by some hospital interests. The vote, 44-26, was mostly along party lines, although Assembly Republicans Shirley Horton and Dennis Mountjoy voted for the bill. Along with Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, the author, and Assemblyman Dario Frommer, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Assemblyman Mountjoy spoke in favor of the bill, expressing his shock at a hospital bill that he had personally received. The bill is expected to be heard in Senate Health Committee in the next month.
* OTHER BILLS OF IMPORT FOR HEALTH ADVOCATES
This morning, the Senate passed SB 853 (Escutia), supported by a range of consumer and community organizations, to ensure “access to language assistance and culturally competent health care services.”
Yesterday, the Assembly passed AB 1213 (Vargas), to ensure that HMO enrollees have access to information about the financial solvency of risk-bearing medical groups, and AB 1627 (Frommer), to require hospitals to disclose their charge lists to patients and others. Other bills to use transparency to help control health care costs, including AB 103 (Reyes), AB 1628 (Frommer), and AB 1629 (Frommer), are pending as of this writing.
* BUDGET PROCESS MOVES FORWARD
On Monday, the Senate voted for their budget plan, SB 53 (Chesbro), on strict party lines, 25-15. On Tuesday, the Assembly voted for a “budget” of four lines of “intent” language, also along party lines, 47-28. While neither vote reflected the two-thirds majority needed for the passage of a budget, it was enough to move the budget process along into a Budget Conference Committee.
The Budget Conference Committee started meeting tonight, Wednesday, at 8:30pm, and meet every day through Sunday to finish its work reconciling the differences between the budgets of the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees.
* It is headed by the chairs of the respective Budget Committees, Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) and Senator Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata).
* It also includes the chairs of the respective Appropriations Committees, Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Dede Alpert (D-San Diego).
* It also includes the vice-chairs of the respective Budget Committees, Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) and Senator Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine).
The Assembly has appointed three “shadow” members to monitor the proceedings as well: Assemblyman Gene Mullin (S-South San Francisco), Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountainview), and Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia).
The Constitutional deadline for passage for the full budget would be a week afterwards, on June 15th. Advocates for the uninsured should continue to press their Assembly and Senate representatives about the severity of the cuts already made, and the need to raise the revenues to prevent further cuts. *All* members need to hear from constituents.
Anthony E. Wright
1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814
Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921