HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

GOVERNOR SIGNS HEALTH CARE BILLS

  • New Protections & Information for Individual Consumers of Health Coverage, Hospital Care
  • Hospital Financing/Medicaid Waiver Legislation Also Signed
  • Prescription Drug Bills Vetoed Last Week

Today, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation supported by consumer advocates to assist individual health care consumers as they purchase health coverage and hospital care. In related news last week, the Governor vetoed two bills supported by consumer advocates to lower the costs of prescription drugs.

Health, child, and faith-based advocates continue to await the Governor’s decision on a range of bills, including a high profile bill, AB772(Chan), to expand coverage to all California children.

For a complete list of bills that the Governor signed yesterday on health and health-realted issues, as well as to keep track of the Governor’s go to the Governor’s website, at:
http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov_homepage.jsp
And then click through “Press Room,” “Press Releases,” and then the “Legislative Updates,” including the recent release, “Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation to Protect California’s Safety Net Hospitals.”

For a list of bills sent to the Governor this year of interest to health advocates, visit the Health Access California website, at:
http://www.health-access.org/

The bills signed today by Governor Schwarzenegger include topics such as:

* INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE: AB 356 (Chan), sponsored by Health Access California, to require disclosure by insurers of a individual’s health coverage options, and to require disclosure of the reasons that an individual may be denied for “pre-existing conditions.” The bill provides more information for those Californians who buy health coverage on their own, and risk being denied because of pre-existing conditions. This includes the over one million Californians buy their health insurance as individuals, and another six million are uninsured–who often find individual insurance not just unaffordable, but unavailable.

* HOSPITAL CHARGES: AB 1045 (Frommer) would require hospitals to provide estimates to self-pay patients of how much a treatment would cost, and also makes the disclosure of hospital charges more easy to use for patients. Consumer advocates will be better able track the large variations of pricing in the hospital industry.

* CONTINUITY OF COVERAGE: AB 1533 (Bass) helps ensure continuity of health insurance coverage for children by requiring employers to immediately offer existing health care coverage to an employee’s dependents that lose Healthy Families coverage, instead of waiting for the open enrollment period.

The Governor also signed SB 1100 (Perata/Ducheny), to implement the controversial Medicaid waiver on hospital financing. Patient and health advocates understand that the legislature made the best of a bad deal for the safety net hospitals that serve those most in need. This issue will need to be revisited next year by advocates, to ensure that our safety-net hospitals get the funding they need to stay open in the next year and beyond, as well as to continue to raise concerns about renewed attempts to shift seniors and people with disabilities into managed care. Since this hospital waiver places a cap on federal funding for safety-net hospitals for the next five years, more work needs to be done on behalf of California’s six million uninsured, the six million Californians who rely on Medi-Cal, as well as all of us who rely on trauma centers, emergency rooms and other vital hospital services.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG BILLS VETOED: Last week, the Governor vetoed two bills to bring down the costs of prescription drugs, legislation that was supported by senior, health and consumer groups, and opposed by the prescription drug companies.
* AB 73 (Frommer) would have created a website that would allow California residents to purchase medications from licensed pharmacies in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.
* AB 78 (Pavley) would have called for greater transparency in the Pharmacy Benefits Management (PBM) industry.

The vetoes of the two prescription drug bills come on the heels of Schwarzenegger’s decision to endorse Proposition 78 and oppose Proposition 79, both slated for the November Special Election ballot. Proposition 78, sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, would create a prescription drug discount card, but it would completely lack any enforcement. Proposition 79, supported by a coalition of consumer, health and senior organizations, would also create a discount card program but the proposal includes an enforcement mechanism, and provides deeper discounts to twice as many Californians.

For fact sheets and more information on the Proposition 79 campaign, visit the website, at:
http://www.voteyeson79.com/downloads.htm

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