HEALTH ACCESS ALERT
Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

SPOTLIGHT ON SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE

  • Several Bills Pass Yesterday on Prescription Drugs, Employer Disclosure, Dependent Coverage
  • Bills Up Next Wednesday, on Children’s Coverage, Drugs, Individual Insurance, Hospitals
  • Action Needed to Pass Consumer Protections Against Hospital Overcharging

KEY BILLS PASS SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE

Yesterday, the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) passed a series of proposals on key health care consumer issues. The bills passed supported by consumer groups like Health Access California included:

* PRESCRIPTION DRUG REIMPORTATION: AB73 (Frommer, Chan), which would create a website with information on affordable prescription drug prices from other countries for Californians.
* PBM DISCLOSURE: AB78 (Pavley, Bass) which would protect consumers by requiring the disclosure of information about pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
* EMPLOYER DISCLOSURE: AB89 (Horton), which would require disclosure of employers of persons dependent on Medi-Cal and Healthy Families
* CHILDREN’S COVERAGE: AB1199 (Frommer), which would create the California Healthy Kids Fund in the state treasury for the purpose of receiving contributions to expand children’s health insurance.
* MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLANS: AB1359 (Chan), sponsored by Health Access California, which would license prescription drug plans permitted under the Medicare Prescription Drug Act.
* STREAMLINING: AB1533 (Bass), which would allow individuals who lose Healthy Families coverage due to changes in age or income to enroll in private health insurance without waiting.
* DEPENDENT COVERAGE EXPANSION: AB1698 (Nunez), which would expand coverage for dependents up to age 26.

For more information on these bills, please visit the Health Access California website, at:
http://www.health-access.org/advocating/2005_bills.htm

HOSPITAL OVERCHARGING BILL HANGS IN THE BALANCE

However, one important consumer protection sponsored by Health Access California, AB774(Chan), to prevent hospital overcharging, was stalled last night in Senate Health Committee. The bill needed one more vote to pass out of committee, since all Republican Senators voted no, Senator Wes Chesbro (D-Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Eureka) also voted no, and Senator Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood) was out for the day.

HEARING: A San Diego man told about his son, who was treated after being attacked on the street, who was mugged again with a $19,000 bill from the hospital, which forced him into bankruptcy. A Lake Tahoe woman, who was also overbilled, reported that her hospital explicitly told her that it had no intention of complying with the hospital associations “voluntary guidelines” on billing issues. Over a dozen consumer, community, labor, and constituency groups testified in favor. The hospital association and a few hospital groups testified against the measure.

In addition, Senator Ortiz, whose own bill on the subject was held in Senate Appropriations Committee earlier in the year, chastised the hospitals for not wanting any accountability on their billing practices, for opposing any effort to make their guidelines enforceable. The discussion ranged, from the differences between the voluntary guidelines and the bill. Senator Ortiz and Senator Runner and Cox had a debate about what, if any, financial impact these consumer protections would have on hospitals. There was also discussion about the ultimate need for universal health coverage.

ONE VOTE SHORT: In order to pass out of Senate Health Committee, the bill needs 6 votes. Democratic Senators Ortiz, Alquist, Figueroa, Kuehl, and Romero all voted for the measure, and so the bill needs one more vote. Republican Senators Runner, Aanestad, Cox, Maldonado voted no, as did Democratic Senator Chesbro. (Last year, Senator Chesbro was a deciding vote to kill a similar Chan bill on the Senate floor.) Democratic Senator Edward Vincent was out for the day. Having failed to pass the committee, the bill was placed for reconsideration, for a vote (without hearing) next Wednesday, June 29th in Senate Health Committee, the last session of the committee before the bill deadline.

ACTION NEEDED: Those who wish to support these consumer protection to prevent hospital overcharging and medical bankruptcy should send letters, phone calls, and faxes to Senators Chesbro and Vincent ASAP. If you can meet with them or their staff, any help would be appreciated. Please also thank those that supported our bill on the committee, and ask them to continue their support!

* Senator Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata): State Capitol, Room 5035. Phone: 916-445-3375, Fax: 916-323-6958.
Eureka: 707-445-6508; Santa Rosa: 707-756-2771; Napa: 707-224-1990; Ukiah: 707-468-8914; Vallejo: 707-648-5312
* Senator Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood): State Capitol, Room 5052. Phone: 916-445-2104, Fax: 916-445-3712. Inglewood: 310-412-0393

IMPORTANT BILLS UP NEXT WEEK IN SENATE HEALTH

In addition to a possible new vote on the hospital overcharging measure, the Senate Health Committee is scheduled to consider numerous other pro-consumer measures, on prescription drugs, children’s coverage, individual insurance, and other items. For bill text and the letter that Health Access California submitted in support, please visit the Health Access website, at:
http://www.health-access.org/advocating/2005_bills.htm

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS:
* AB71 (Chan), which as amended would improve reporting of adverse drug reactions by creating a toll-free number for receiving reports, maintaining a website for public information on adverse reactions, and providing information to the FDA regarding adverse drug reactions.
* AB74 (Gordon), which as introduced would create a California Rx Prescription Drug hotline to provide information to consumers and prescribers.
* AB76 (Frommer, Chan), which as introduced would create an office of pharmaceutical purchasing to purchase prescription drugs for state programs.

INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE:
* AB356 (Chan), sponsored by Health Access California, which would require disclosure of the criteria and process for denying individuals health insurance coverage.

STREAMLINING:
* AB624 (Montanez), which would streamline the process for children to enroll into Medi-Cal or Healthy Families through the CHDP gateway

CHILDREN’S COVERAGE:
* AB772 (Chan) which as amended would expand and protect health insurance coverage for children in order to assure that all California children have the opportunity to have health insurance coverage.

HOSPITAL REPORTING:
* AB1045 (Frommer) which as introduced would clarify existing law by requiring that the charges for 25 most common inpatient hospital procedures and the 25 most common outpatient procedures be made public.
* AB1046 (Frommer) which as introduced would require the creation of a hospital report card.

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

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