HISTORIC MOMENT: Landmark Universal Health Care bill heads to California Governor’s Desk for the first time; Senate bans Hospitals from overcharging uninsured patients

  • Senate takes final vote on SB840 to create a publicly financed health care system.
  • Senators pass AB774 to prevent hospital overcharging.
  • 10 hours remain until session ends…

In a historic vote, the California Senate voted on a party line vote, 24-12, to support a universal, public-financed health care system, the California Health Insurance Reliability Act (CHIRA), to guarantee health coverage to all Californians, with comprehensive benefits, and the right to choose one’s own doctor, and save on health care costs.

Four years later…

“Willie Brown used to tell me never fall in love with your bill. Well, I broke the cardinal rule and I fell in love with this one,” said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who has worked four years to pass this legislation.

The plan would be funded by drawing in current public spending and replacing all premiums, co-pays and deductibles paid to insurance companies with premiums paid to the system. As amended, the bill creates a blue ribbon panel of health, finance and technical experts to lay out the mechanics for an affordable premium structure using information gathered in available funding studies. Because this structure, the bill needed a majority vote to pass, not the two-thirds vote needed for fiscal measures.

Supporters of the plan argued that SB 840 saves the state of California, businesses and working families nearly $8 billion in the first year, through a streamlined claims and reimbursement system reducing administrative costs, and using the state’s combined purchasing power to negotiate better rates for prescription drugs and durable medical equipment.

The Governor is expected to veto it, although hundreds of advocates stormed the Capitol Wednesday chanting “Sign this bill” outside the governor’s offices.

Despite the potential veto by Governor Schwarzenegger, the vote is historic in having the full California legislature go on record in support of a universal healthcare system, and for the desired direction of our health care system.

The California legislature has voted on and passed other major health care coverage expansions in recent years, most notably with an expansion of employer-based coverage in 2003 (SB2) which was narrowly repealed by referendum and a full expansion of coverage to nearly all children in 2005 (SB774), which was vetoed. With the vote on SB840, the California legislature has continued to make health care coverage a priority, puts forward a vision, and sets an even higher marker for the coming debate next year.

Uninsured patients would receive greater protections in when visiting hospitals

Minutes ago, the state Senate passed 22-13 legislation that would protect uninsured patients from getting gouged when they visit the hospital.

AB774 (Chan) would ensure that patients with inadequate insurance and earning less than 350 percent poverty ($60,000 for a family of four) would be charged no more than what Medi-Cal or other government programs pay for procedures at hospitals.

Hospitals would also be required to advise patients of discount options and give patients 150 days to negotiate a payment plan before sending them to collections.

This bill has been a work in progress for five years. It does not require hospitals provide free care — just a fair price for medical servicse.

The state Assembly now much concur in amendments by midnight tonight.

Session nears end

With less than 10 hours remaining until the session ends, Health Access will keep advocates apprised of bill passage as information becomes available. We will provide a fuller accounting of bills of interest to health advocates Friday, September 1 after the dust has settled.

For more information, contact Hanh Kim Quach, hquach@health-access.org, or 916-497-0923.

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

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