Aligning CA with federal reform…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

* CA Assembly Health: Kids in Medi-Cal Won’t Be Forced to Re-Enroll Every 6 Months
* Hospital Fee Funding Deal to Draw Down More Federal Funds Seeks an Extension
* Mental Health Parity Bill Passes in CA Assembly Health — as It Already Has in DC

HEALTH REFORM CONTINUES IN THE STATE CAPITOL: The California Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday passed a number of measures that align the state’s policies closer with provisions outlined in the landmark federal health reform law.

CONTINUOUS KIDS COVERAGE: Foremost, the committee, chaired by William Monning (D), voted to pass AB 2477 to allow children on Medi-Cal to stay covered for a year before their families would have to renew eligibility paperwork. A proposal by the Governor would have required families to renew their children’s coverage every six months, with the impact that some parents would miss their deadlines and the children would no longer be covered. The proposal is one of the governor’s ideas for saving the state money–at the expense of the health of Californians.

Assemblyman Dave Jones (D), sponsor of AB 2477, a bill supported by Children Now and the 100% Campaign, Health Access, and other coalition partners, wrapped up his arguments in favor of the measure by saying simply, “Vote for our kids!”

Since the historic federal law signed by President Obama requires states to maintain the same level of eligibility they had before the federal reform passed, California risked losing substantial federal funds if it adopted Schwarzenegger’s proposal. Semi-annual eligibility review would have posed an unfair burden on families struggling in the recession, frequently on the move and working primarily to put food on the table, Jones said.

With the committee in agreement, AB 2477 now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where its fiscal impact on the state will be assessed.

MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Assembly Health Committee members also voted to pass a bill by Assemblyman Jim Beall (D) to require health plans to cover mental illness as they do physical illness. Current California law dictates that only serious mental illnesses be covered, and Beall’s AB 1600 extends coverage to other mental illnesses as well.

Again, the provision mirrors what President Obama signed into law. Beall argued that failing to cover mental conditions, including substance abuse and drinking alcohol to excess, cost California’s health care system, government and industry too much money in lost productivity and late intervention.

Beall said the bill will also correct some of the discriminatory practices of health insurance companies, which argued that AB 1600 would cost too much money. Health Access’ legislative advocate said the bill is consistent with federal health reform, which would also extend mental health parity to the small group market and the individual insurance market by 2014. AB 1600 heads next to the Assembly appropriations committee.

EXTENSION OF PROVIDER TAX ON HOSPITALS TO DRAW DOWN MORE FEDERAL FUNDS: The Assembly Health Committee also considered a measure, AB1653 (Jones), to extend for another six months a three-year deal struck with hospitals through which they pay fees in order to draw down additional matching federal funds.

Lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, which was supported by several hospital associations and is needed to help hospitals cover the voluminous cost of caring for the uninsured in emergency rooms.

The current hospital fee arrangement, which is still pending at the federal level, would collect $2.3 billion a year in order to attract $1.1 billion in matching funds from Washington. Noone spoke up in opposition to the measure, which will next go before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

KEEP UP THE FIGHT: Many other bills are scheduled for votes in the next week, and insurance companies are already sending in their letters of opposition, on everything from rate regulation to limits on charging children with pre-existing conditions.

ALERT: SEND YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL LETTERS OF SUPPORT: These bills need organizational letters of support ASAP. Please send letters to the bill’s author, the chairs of the relevant Health Committees, Senator Elaine Alquist and/or Assemblyman Bill Monning, and members of the relevant policy committee that will review the legislation.

Insurers are sharing their wish-lists with the Legislature, and so we need consumer, community, and constituency organizations to voice the people’s view. Submit letters in support of these specific bills, listed on our website. Contact Health Access for sample letters on some of these bills.

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

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