HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

COMMITTEES ACT ON VARIOUS HEALTH MEASURES

  • Prescription Drug Bills Pass Assembly B&P, Senate Judiciary Committees
  • Assembly Health Committee Supports Children’s Coverage, Consumer Protection, Disclosure Bills
  • Bills for an Individual Mandate, Mandatory Medi-Cal Managed Care Rejected

Many consumer protection bills and other legislation of interest to health advocates advanced through the legislative process, as part of a busy day at the state legislature.

On health care coverage, the Assembly Health Committee voted to expand health coverage to all children in California, while rejecting another effort to mandate that the uninsured purchase high-deductible health plans on the individual market. With that troublesome proposal now defeated, there can be a renewed discussion on expanding health coverage, which is the subject of many measures in the legislature. For example, the Senate Health Committee will hear the California Health Insurance Reliability Act, SB 840(Kuehl), tomorrow, Wednesday, April 27th.

Consumer protections were passed in the Assembly Health Committee on the individual insurance market, so-called discount health plans, hospital charges, hospital quality, and Medicare prescription drug plans. Numerous bills to address the cost and safety of prescription drugs were passed out of Assembly Business and Professions Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed two other bills on the subject.

Here are some specific reports on specific issues. With the 14 members of the Assembly Health Committee, bills needed 8 “aye” votes to be passed out. Many of the votes were party-line votes, with the 10 Democrats voted to support and the 4 Republicans either voting “no” or not voting. However, there were several deviances from this pattern, some of which are described below. Most of the bills passed are moving on to the Appropriations Committee, the final hurdle before reaching a full floor vote in the Assembly or Senate, respectively.

For more information on health care consumer advocacy legislation, both these bills and others of interest, as well as to see copies of these bills, and the positions of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, visit the “Legislative Corner” of Health Access’ website at:

http://www.health-access.org/2005_bills.htm

* CHILDREN’S COVERAGE: AB772 (Chan) passed, with a the support of a broad coalition and a large crowd representing the religious community, as part of Catholic Lobby Day. The bill is part of a larger effort to cover all California children, by expanding and streamlining public insurance programs. While propelled by solid Democratic support, sponsorship and prioritization, the effort has been picking up some bipartisan support as well: the bill did get the vote of Republican Vice-Chair Aghazarian today. Earlier in the month, Republican Senator Maldonado voted for the Senate version of the bill, SB437 (Escutia).

* INDIVIDUAL MANDATE: AB1670 (Nation/Richman) failed, with only two votes in support, five votes in opposition, and the rest of the committee not voting. Opposed by consumer and constituency groups, health plans, and many others, this bill would have imposed a mandate on individuals to buy individual health insurance. In the broader health care package by the two Assemblymen, three bills on other subjects (AB1671, AB1672, AB1674) passed, while another (AB1673) on hospital seismic retrofitting failed.

* PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: AB73 (Frommer), AB74 (Gordon), AB75 (Frommer), AB76 (Frommer), AB78 (Pavley) all passed Assembly Business and Professions Committee. AB163 (Scott) and SB401 (Ortiz) also passed Senate Judiciary. All these bills addressed issues with the cost of prescription drugs. AB73 would provide consumer information to faciliate reimportation of cheaper drugs from other countries. AB 74 would establish a hotline to advise consumers on drug discount programs in California. AB 75 would provide a drug discount card, providing negotiated discounts to millions of Californians, using the leverage of Medi-Cal’s purchasing power. AB 76 would coordinate drug purchasing among state agencies for better prices. AB 78 would set standards for pharmacy benefit managers. AB163 required disclosure of drug company’s marketing costs. AB401 prohibits advertising in the materials provided with a prescription drug.

* “DISCOUNT” HEALTH PLANS: In a mixed result for consumer advocates, both AB562 (Levine) and AB1091 (Parra) passed, to regulate the so-called “discount health plans,” many of which have been characterized as frauds by consumer groups and health providers. AB562, supported by consumer groups, passed with 10 Democratic votes. While AB1091 was supported by the industry and opposed by consumer, low-income advocacy, and physician groups, that bill passed with 8 votes, including the four Republicans on the committee, Aghazarian, Nakanishi, Richman, and Strickland, and Democrats Frommer, De La Torre, Dymally, and Negrete McLeod. AB757 (Chan) to prevent the re-selling of provide networks, also passed.

* INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE CONSUMER PROTECTIONS: AB1199 (Frommer) passed on consent, to provide the equivalent of a consumer credit report for individual insurance health status. AB1111 (Frommer), to provide other consumer protections for those denied coverage because of “pre-existing conditions,” was held without hearing, at the request of the author and sponsor, Health Access California. Both bills are expected to advance in the future, although on different timetables.

* HOSPITAL REPORTING: Both AB1045 (Frommer) and AB1046 (Frommer) passed on party line votes, with strong support from consumer groups, to provide greater public disclosure about hospital charges and quality, respectively.

* MEDICARE DRUG PLANS CONSUMER PROTECTIONS: AB1359 (Chan) passed, sponsored by Health Access California, to provide consumer protections in Medicare prescription drug plans.

* MEDI-CAL MANAGED CARE: AB1481 (Richman) failed, garnering only three votes from the 14 member committee. It would have mandated managed care for the “aged, blind and disabled” in Medi-Cal, similar to the Schwarzenegger Administration’s proposal.

* PUBLIC INSURANCE PROGRAM STREAMLINING: AB699 (Chan) passed, to eliminate costly semiannual reports that disrupt coverage of Medi-Cal enrollees at cost to the person, the provider and the State. AB1533 (Bass) passed on consent, to facilitate enrollment in private insurance for children graduating from Healthy Families due to higher age or income.

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