1 Signature, Some Vetoes, 1 More Day to Act

One day until the deadline, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed 5 key consumer protection bills and signed one. The remaining bills to implement and improve health reform still await their fate.

The day’s big victory was the signing of AB 1503 (Lieu) to limit emergency room doctor overcharges. The bill would require physicians who provide emergency medical services in hospitals to implement a discount payment policy, including a limited rate, for financially qualified patients. The bill would also place limits on the collections activities of these physicians. AB 1503 is part of a larger fight that Health Access has waged on behalf of uninsured consumers being overcharged for hospital care and other medical services far in excess of what insurance companies or insured consumers are charged.

The bills vetoed by the Governor today include some measures that would have improved upon federal reform by phasing in mental health coverage, and facilitating public health insurance options. The 5 bills vetoed are:
* MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: AB1600, by Assemblyman Beall, requires mental health parity in private coverage. The bill would have ensured that patients should be covered for mental health similarly to how they are covered for physical health. This bill would have saved Californians money, treating mental health issues before they get worse and become a burden on our safety-net.
* LIMITING RATE HIKES TO ONCE A YEAR: AB2042, by Assemblyman Feuer, and sponsored by Health Access California, would limit health plans from raising rates or changing premiums, cost-sharing, or benefits to once a year. This bill would have provided stability to consumers in this time of economic hardship, allowing families to budget and plan their finances knowing that their premiums would not change multiple times a year.

* JOINT VENTURES AND PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS: SB56, by Senator Alquist, would foster new public health insurance options by allowing county-based Medicaid managed health care plans (such as Alameda Alliance for Health, LA Care, and San Francisco Health Plan) to enter into joint ventures, offer broader provider networks, and be viable choices in the marketplace. This would have provided California consumers the option of getting coverage without being at the mercy of private insurance companies.
* FINES FOR RESCISSION: AB2540, by Assemblyman De La Torre, would increased fines for rescinding, canceling, or limiting of a policy or certificate due to the insurer’s failure to complete medical underwriting before issuing the policy or certificate or after a claim has been filed.
* MEDICAL ERRORS: AB542, by Assemblyman Feuer, would have set up a process toward the goal that Medi-Cal would no longer pay for “never events,” major medical errors that should not “never” happen–like surgery on the wrong body part. This bill was intended to encourage providers to set up systems that prevent such errors before they occur.

In most of the veto messages, the Governor suggested that the bill was unnecessary and the objective of the measure could be accomplished in another way. While we thought all these bills were worthy of our support, we will continue to pursue progress on these issues with this Governor, who has engaged on these broader issues: from ending rescission, to reducing adverse events and medical errors, to expanding the role of Medicaid managed care plans, and to reviewing rate hikes annually. We will pursue these objectives with this Administration in its remaining months—and to press ahead with the next Governor whoever that is.

We continue to await the Governor’s actions on key bills such as AB 1602 (Perez) and SB 900 (Alquist) that would make California the first state to create a health insurance exchange after the passage of health reform law.

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