KEY BILLS PASS HEALTH COMMITTEES; ORG LETTERS NEEDED FOR NEXT WEEK

  • Senate and Assembly Committees pass bills on drugs, coverage; MRMIB budget reviewed
  • LETTERS NEEDED TODAY for Committee votes next week on high-profile measures
  • Up next week: High-deductible plans, individual mandates, drug discounts, Part D report card

The Sacramento weather has finally warmed up – and so has work at the Capitol. The building was abuzz this week with advocates from all corners, coming to fight for their bills. Health advocates enjoyed several victories this week in both the Assembly and Senate health committees. A quick report from the policy and budget committees is BELOW.

HEARINGS CONTINUE NEXT WEEK; LETTERS NEEDED

As deadlines approach, committee hearings will be packed next week with key bills. The following bills are expected to be heard, listed below with the bill number, author, description, and the position of Health Access California.

LETTERS NEEDED: Organizational letters in support or opposition of bills being heard in Assembly Health Committee next Tuesday are DUE TODAY, THURSDAY, April 20th. (Letters received after that are accepted but might not be included in the committee analysis.)

Organizations can FAX letters to the author of the bill, and to the Health Committee chair, Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, at Fax # 916-319-2197.

ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITTEE — Tuesday, April 25

  • AB2170 (Chan)- Would create a consumer report card on Medicare Part D prescription drug plans – SUPPORT
  • AB2281 (Chan) – Provides information and protections to consumers with high-deductible health plans.– SUPPORT
  • AB2607 (De La Torre) — Provides consumer protections if seniors and people with disabilities in Medi-Cal are placed into mandated managed care – SUPPORT
  • AB2911 (Nunez/Perata) — Would create a prescription drug discount program in California — SUPPORT
  • AB2450 (Richman) – Would obligate every Californian to purchase bare-bones health coverage – OPPOSE
  • AB1952 (Nation) – Requires individuals and employers to purchase health coverage, and removes benefits and consumer protections – OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED

Letters on bills heard on Wednesday, April 26th are DUE this FRIDAY, APRIL 21st,

SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE — Wednesday, April 26

  • SB1702 (Perata/Nunez) — Would create a prescription drug discount program in California — SUPPORT

SENATE REVENUE AND TAXATION COMMITTEE — Wednesday, April 26

  • SB1584 (Runner/Ackerman) — Allows holders of Health Savings Accounts to receive a tax credit in California . – OPPOSE
  • SB1639 (Dutton) — Gives businesses tax breaks if they contribte to employees’ Health Savings Accounts. — OPPOSE

SAMPLE LETTERS AVAILABLE: For more information on any of these bills, or for sample letters, contact Hanh Kim Quach, Health Access California, at 916-497-0923, or hquach@health-access.org.

For a full list of bills this session that are of interest to health advocates, go to the Health Access website at:
http://www.health-access.org/advocating/docs/2006BillListApr13.doc

Here are some specific issues of interest to highlight in advance of next week’s hearing in Assembly Health Committee:

HIGH DEDUCTIBLE PLANS: One of the high-profile bills next week is AB2281(Chan), which would provide information and protections for patients with high-deductible plans. It would place an overall limit on out-of-pocket expenses, require coverage for preventative services, and ensure that the insurer provides information to the consumer about the coverage and choices. A broad range of consumer groups are supporting the bill, but insurers are expected to oppose these modest safeguards.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG DISCOUNTS: Two bills, AB2911(Nunez/Perata) and SB1702(Perata/Nunez) seek to move beyond the Proposition 78 & 79 debate last year, and create a meaningful discount drug card for the millions of uninsured and underinsured Californians that now pay more than anybody else in the world for prescription drugs. Senior and consumer groups are supporting this renewed effort, in both Assembly and Senate Health Committees next week.

INDIVIDUAL MANDATE: While getting little legislative support last year, a proposal for an “individual mandate” to require all Californians to have health insurance has returned this year, in AB2450(Richman). The notion of an individual mandate has gotten more attention since it is one of many provisions in the recently-passed Massachusetts reform. Yet regardless of what one thinks of the Massachusetts measure, AB2450 suffers in comparison.

  • Massachusetts had existing law on community rating, so that insurers could not deny people based on “pre-existing conditions,” as well as existing regulations limiting deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. California does not.
  • The Richman proposal places the entire burden on individuals, without any requirement on employers, unlike the Massachusetts plan.
  • The Richman proposal does not expand public insurance programs or directly subsidize low- and moderate-income families, as the Massachusetts measure proposes to do.
  • The Richman proposal would mandate at least high-deductible, limited benefit coverage. The Massachusetts plan does not, and in fact does not remove any mandated benefit.
  • The Massachusetts “individual mandate” is limited to higher-income people for whom available health insurance is deemed “affordable.” The Richman proposal has no such test or limit.

REPORT FROM THIS WEEK: HEALTH BILLS CLEAR KEY COMMITTEES

In Tuesday’s Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, the following measures made it out with little problem:

  • AB1971 (Chan), which extends the sunset on the state’s MRMIP program for uninsurable patients.
  • AB2877 (Frommer), which would establish a website directing patients to safe national and international vendors of prescription drugs.
  • AB2889 (Frommer), which would prohibit health plans from discriminating against consumers with pre-existing conditions, but who have been insured before.

In Wednesday’s Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Deborah Ortiz, the following consumer health measures passed:

  • SB1683 (Scott) would require all pharmaceutical manufacturers’ clinical trials results to be posted on the federal government website, in order to avoid selective disclosure by drug companies.

SENATE BUDGET SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS MRMIB, DHS

Lawmakers on the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Senator Denise Ducheny, this week also combed through the budgets of the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (MRMIB) and Department of Health Services.

Among the budget actions taken, the subcommittee:

  • Approved the Governor’s proposed baseline budgets for the AIM and Healthy Families programs. The budget assumes a caseload of 933,000 children by June 30, 2007, reflecting a 12.8% growth rate. There was discussion in the committee about the pending renewal of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the federal program that funds two-thirds of Healthy Families. In particular, there was concern about whether, as SCHIP is up for renewal next year, the Congress would provide enough funds to continue current and future enrollment levels.
  • Approved a streamlining of the Healthy Families enrollment process, so as not to require a premium or plan selection up-front, especially when applicants may not know which program (and level of cost-sharing) they are eligible for.
  • Rejected an increase in “incentive payments’’ to those who enroll more Healthy Families or Medi-Cal patients, for a savings of $2.5 million. Advocates argued that the incentive program was just implemented last year and that the money would be more effectively used in other outreach efforts.
  • Modified the Governor’s proposal to allocate nearly $20 million for county-based outreach, enrollment, and retention activities through a County Allocation Program, by established a pool for smaller counties.
  • Rejected a $3.4 million media campaign for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families outreach proposed by the Governor. Advocates agreed with the subcommittee that a media campaign has not proven to be the most effective way to enroll children in the program.

Increase staff at MRMIB by four – six fewer than the department had initially requested.

There was also an extensive update on Medi-Cal managed care, for both the ongoing geographic managed care expansion, and on proposed pilot projects. For a detailed discussion of these issues, review the Budget Subcommittee analysis at:
http://www.senate.ca.gov/ftp/SEN/COMMITTEE/STANDING/BFR/_home/Sub3/041706Diane.pdf

All hearing agendas for the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health are available at:
http://www.senate.ca.gov/ftp/SEN/COMMITTEE/STANDING/BFR/_home/NEWAGENDA.HTML#three

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