HEALTH ACCESS ALERT
Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

NEW BILL TO PREVENT HOSPITAL OVERCHARGING, MEDICAL BANKRUPTCIES

  • AB 774 (Chan) to provide consumer protections for the “uninsured and overcharged.”
  • Senate Health Committee hearing this week on health care billing issues

There has been substantial media coverage about bankruptcy in the past few weeks. Many articles focused on the the recent report by Harvard researchers, showing that medical bankruptcies affect about 2 million Americans annually, including about 700,000 children, and that medical problems and medical debt are a leading cause of bankruptcy.

By making it harder for those facing medical debt to declare bankruptcy, the bankruptcy bill just passed by the U.S. Congress will further reduce the options and increase the hardship faced by families struggling with illness and medical debt. The Congress in fact rejected amendments that would have provided protections for those in medical debt.

AB 774 (Chan), CONSUMER PROTECTIONS FOR HOSPITAL PATIENTS, would protect low- and moderate-income families by regulating hospital prices for uninsured patients up to 400% of federal poverty level, as well as those whose out of pocket costs exceed 5% of income (the “underinsured”). The bill would cap hospital prices for these patients at the Medicaid, Medicare, or workers compensation rate. The bill also ensures that hospital patients get information on their consumer rights and financial options, and ensures there is time to negotiate with the hospital before being sent to collections. A FACT SHEET on the bill is available at:
http://www.health-access.org/ab774_facts.htm

AB 774 is similar to legislation introduced last session by Assemblymember Chan (AB 232) and Senator Ortiz (SB 379). The Legislature passed SB 379 and sent it to the Governor, marking the first time in the nation that a state legislature passed consumer and financial protections for self-pay hospital patients.

Unfortunately, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, relying on the hospitals to comply with their own “voluntary guidelines,” but he did indicate that he may reconsider the issue, depending on what the hospitals did. Health Access conducted a study late last year that showed that hospitals largely did not comply with even the easiest of the guidelines: posting a sign informing hospital patients of their rights.The study is available at:
http://www.health-access.org/volguidereport.htm

YOU CAN HELP PROTECT FAMILIES FROM MEDICAL BANKRUPTCY BY SUPPORTING THE CHAN BILL (AB 774), “CONSUMER PROTECTIONS FOR HOSPITAL PATIENTS”

HEARING ON BILL: Advocates for low- and moderate-income Californians are asked to send letters in support of AB 774. The Assembly Health Committee will hear AB 774 on TUESDAY, APRIL 5th. The hearing will be at 1:30PM, in ROOM 4202 at the State Capitol, Sacramento. If you know of someone who has been overcharged by a hospital and might want to testify, please ask them to contact Jessica Rothhaar at JessicaR@health-access.org for more information.

ACTION ALERT:

  1. Please write to Assemblymember Chan to put your organization’s support for AB 774 on the legislative record. We are collecting endorsement letters by fax and will forward them to Assemblymember Chan in time for the hearing. A SAMPLE LETTER is available at: http://www.health-access.org/docs/AB774/AB774ChanSampleLetter.doc
  2. Have your organization and its members communicate their support to other members of the Assembly Health Committee. Below is contact information, including district and Sacramento office phone numbers, for current members of the Assembly Health Committee. New members especially need to hear from their constituents about this issue:
    • Wilma Chan [D], Chair (Oakland, 510-286-1670; State Capitol (916) 319-2016)
    • Greg Aghazarian [R], Vice Chair (Stockton, 209-473-6972; State Capitol (916) 319-2026)
    • Patty Berg [D], (Eureka, 707-576-2526; State Capitol (916) 319-2001)
    • Rebecca Cohn [D], (Saratoga, 408-369-2024; State Capitol (916) 319-2024)
    • Mervyn M. Dymally [D], (Compton, 310-223-1201; State Capitol (916) 319-2052)
    • Dario Frommer [D], (Los Angeles, 818-240-6330; State Capitol (916) 319-2043)
    • Mike Gordon [D], (El Segundo, 310-322-2234; State Capitol (916) 319-2053)
    • Dave Jones [D], (Sacramento, 916-736-1439; State Capitol (916) 319-2009)
    • Cindy Montañez [D], (San Fernando, 818-838-3939; State Capitol (916) 319-2039)
    • Alan Nakanishi [R], (Lodi, 209-333-5330; State Capitol (916) 319-2010)
    • Gloria Negrete McLeod [D], (Chino, 909-621-2783; State Capitol (916) 319-2061)
    • Keith Richman [R], (Northridge, 818-368-3838; State Capitol (916) 319-2038)
    • Mark Ridley-Thomas [D], (Los Angeles, 213-745-6656; State Capitol (916) 319-2048)
    • Audra Strickland [R], (Thousand Oaks, 800-620-8840; State Capitol (916) 319-2037)

HEARING WEDNESDAY ON BILLING ISSUES: On a related subject, the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Deborah Ortiz, will be holding an informational hearing this Wednesday on health care billing issues, tentatively titled, “Caught in the Squeeze: Insured Patients Facing Bills and Collection Actions from Health Care Providers.” The hearing will be this WEDNESDAY, March 30th, 2005, at 3:00pm, at the State Capitol, Room 4203, and will feature testimony from actual patients, as well as from the Department of Managed Health Care.

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