Assembling a benefit package…

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

* Bills fill out benefits on some bare bones plans
* Legislation passes to improve safety, protect consumers

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With deadlines fast approaching, the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday tore through and passed nearly three dozen bills, including many that would improve the benefits provided in bare bones, high deductible health plans.

A broad and constantly-updated list of bills of interest to health advocates is available at the Health Access website, at:

The bills considered Tuesday with the broadest reach were:
* AB 1887 (Beall), which would provide coverage for all mental illness – not just the most serious.
* AB 1962 (De La Torre), which would require all plans cover maternity services.

For these and other bills that would require certain benefits as part of coverage, the biggest impact would be felt in the individual market, where premiums are expensive, but benefits are skimpy. The trend is especially acute for maternity coverage, where the California Health Benefits Review Board reports that the number of Californians without maternity benefits has tripled from 192,000 in 2004 to 600,800 today.

For Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, the issue was fairness, and of “spreading the risk.” He countered the opposition of some of the health plans, who stated that the bill would eliminate lower priced premium products from the market. “It’s a false choice’’ that is being given to consumers, he said. “It’s not really a choice when all of the options are equally bad. Women are forced to choose between a product they can afford, without the coverage they need. Or a product they can’t afford, with maternity coverage.’’

Other bills of interest to consumers that passed committee Tuesday included:

* AB 3027 (De Leon) requiring health plans to translate materials into threshold languages.
* AB 2400 (Price) requiring public notice before closing a hospital.
* AB 2146 (Feuer) which bans billing when a hospital or physician has made a preventable, “never mistake,’’ such as operating on the wrong arm, or wrong person.
* AB 2220 (Jones) would require providers and health plans to go to binding “baseball” arbitration when they can’t agree on payment for services provided to a consumer, rather than having providers bill consumers directly.

The Senate Health Committee meets Wednesday to consider another passel of bills. Health Access will keep advocates abreast of committee actions.

For more information, contact the author of this report, Hanh Kim Quach, policy coordinator at

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

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