The California Legislature ended a 2020 session marked by significant changes due to the COVID-19 crisis. While several high-profile health policy initiatives stalled in light of the pandemic and the economic emergency that caused a state budget deficit, the legislative year ended with key advances on health policy for California consumers.
Despite the pandemic, progress was made on improving California health coverage, care, and costs during this COVID-19 impacted legislative session. Admittedly, we were disappointed that solutions stalled on surprise medical bills and health care consolidation, which are both major drivers of higher health costs, the Legislature passed several other health policy highlights. Patient advocates urge Governor Newsom to sign the bills on his desk to help Californian consumers, including to be covered for key mental health services, to access and afford generic drugs, and other efforts to contain health costs.
Health insurers will be required to provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse, a major and importance extension of access at a time it is sorely needed. Insurers will also be required to provide key rate and benefit information and analysis about the individual and small group markets, so we can all better understand trends and identify troubles.
To address the rising cost of health care, California earlier this year started to set up a Health Payments Database, to appropriately track which doctors and hospitals the best quality, low-cost care, and vice versa. The most prominent bill passed to control costs, SB 852 would have California contract to manufacture its own generic medications, providing competition to lower prescription drug prices.
Despite all the pandemic problems, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a long-fought ban on flavored tobacco products, potentially saving a new generation of children from getting addicted in a new way. The legislature advanced inclusion for the LGBTQ community, passing bills to provide better data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity, and creating a new fund for transgender care.
The COVID-19 crisis sadly sidelined some of our ambitious goals at the beginning of the year to expand coverage and control costs, even as those efforts were as urgent as ever. Despite the pandemic and the growing state budget deficit, we were proud we were able to prevent the significant cuts that were proposed to eligibility, benefits, and providers, but we need to raise revenues to sustain these services going forward. We still need to pass a solution to surprise medical bills, now more than ever. By listening to hospital lobbyists, the legislature ignored voter concern on health care costs by not advancing SB 977 on the last day of session, and thus denying the Attorney General oversight to scrutinize the takeover of hospitals by for-profit hospital chains, private equity, and hedge funds. We will continue to seek ways to address health care consolidation and anti-competitive practices which are seen to be a major driver of high health costs.