BUDGET PASSES LEGISLATURE; BILLS IN ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITEE
- Budget Passes Before Deadline: Important Health Items Not Included
- Assembly Committee Passes Bills on Drugs, Language Access; Rejects Insurer Oversight
Late tonight, the state legislature approved a $131 billion state budget. The Assembly voted 54-22, and the Senate voted 30-10. Democrats were unanimous in support of the budget, AB1801 (Laird), with the support of some Republicans to get the needed 2/3 vote, including leaders Senator Dick Ackerman and Assemblyman George Plescia.
The health trailer bill, AB1807, was passed along with other budget trailer bills. This bills includes implementing language on a range of health-related issues, including those dealing with Medi-Cal and Healthy Familes.
Despite a continued multi-billion structural deficit, the budget process was smoothed because of $8 billion more in revenues than was expected. However, despite this windfall, the budget does not include the key items for which health groups advocated, suggesting more work is needed:
- The budget does not include any expansion of child health coverage, either for county programs or the statewide Healthy Families program. Legislative leaders did indicate that they intended to revisit the issue in legislation. Child and faith-based advocates have been advocating for SB437(Escutia) as part of this effort, as well as a tobacco tax initiative this November.
- The budget does not include coverage of newly-imposed prescription drug co-payments for “dual-eligible” seniors and people with disabilities. Senior, low-income and health advocates have just introduced SB503(Figueroa) to continue their effort in this regard.
- The budget also does not include any increase in Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for providers.
ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITTEE REPORT
On Tuesday, in a long Assembly Health Committee, the final one chaired by Assemblywomen Wilma Chan, who is termed out, several key bills were considered.
Those that passed included:
- SB452 (Alarcon), sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and supported by a range of senior, health and consumer groups, which requires Medi-Cal to report to Governor on whether Medi-Cal prices are higher than prices for federal programs.
- SB1405 (Soto), which creates a Task Force on Reimbursement for Language Services to recommend actions for achieving linguistic access to care. Sponsored by Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, California Primary Care Association, and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, eighteen groups tesified in favor of this effort.
- SB1622 (Escutia), sponsored by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which would give employers a notice to be passed along to employees, advising them of the availability of Healthy Families and Medi-Cal.
- SB1702 (Perata/Nunez), supported by a range of senior, health, and consumer groups, which would allow California to use its purchasing power to negotiate discounts for prescription drugs for uninsured and underinsured Californians.
Health insurers were able to defeat two bills sponsored by the California Medical Association, and supported by consumer groups. Neither bill got the needed 8 votes from the committee:
- SB1591(Kuehl) would have allowed the Insurance Commissioner to turn down health insurance products that did not provide economic value to consumers, such as with unacceptable medical loss ratios. The bill got 7 votes from Democratic Assemblymembers, but did not get the votes of Democratic Assemblymembers Frommer, Montanez, and Negrete-McLeod or any Republican.
- SB1804 (Florez) would have required health insurers to disclose the number of physicians accespting patients on a county-by-county basis. The measure only got 6 votes.