Monday, August 28, 2006

FOUR DAYS LEFT TO PASS MAJOR REFORMS & PROTECTIONS FOR UNINSURED

  • Governor, Legislative leaders reach agreement on prescription drug discount program
  • Bill for consumer protections against “hospital overcharging” to come up soon
  • California Health Insurance Reliability Act up for landmark vote this week
  • UPDATE: Where in the process are bills of interest to health advocates?

Lawmakers have four more days to sort through a dizzying number of bills before midnight on Thursday. One bill, to create a report card for Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, is already headed to the Governor’s desk. Health advocates still have over a dozen bills in the legislative mix. Momentum is picking up on legislation for discounted prescription drug prices, a ban on hospital overcharging, and other consumer protection measures, as well as a major vote on a universal, single-payer health care system.

Prescription Drug Discounts Deal

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Speaker Fabian Nunez, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata announced Thursday, August 24th that they had come to an agreement on a prescription drug discount program, which will allow California to use its volume purchasing power to wrestle discounts from drug companies. Read the press release here:
http://gov.ca.gov/index.php/press-release/3650/

An additional information sheet is at:
http://www.stayhealthycalifornia.com/

The Governor has agreed with the framework proposed in two bills, AB2911(Nunez/Perata) and SB1702(Perata/Nunez), and the agreement reflects some amendments to the legislation. The prescription drug discount program is seen as a reasonable compromise between the competing proposals of last year, including Proposition 79, supported by consumer groups, and Proposition 78, supported by the drug industry.

After both measures were defeated, the many senior, health, and consumer groups supporting Proposition 79 indicated they were willing to compromise, but they also wanted to ensure that key criteria were met, elements that make up the new AB2911/SB1702:

  • Verifiable discounts: Authorizes the state to negotiate for the best possible price, and to consider three benchmarks in negotiations with drug manufacturers: Medicaid Best Price, lowest price offered to private payers and average manufacturer’s price minus 15 percent.
  • Enforceability: The first three years, the program is voluntary, allowing the drug companies to fulfill their promises made last year to make a voluntary program work. However, after August 1, 2010, if drug companies are not participating or their discounts are still insufficient, the state may use the purchasing power of its Medi-Cal program to steer some business to those drug companies that do participate.
  • Broad eligibility: The program would be available for 5-6 million Californians who earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($60,000 for a family of four); or who have high un-reimbursed medical expenses and incomes below the state’s median family income ($68,310 for a family of four); or whose drugs are not covered by Medicare may qualify.

    AB2911/SB1702 would help up to 5-6 million low-income uninsured and underinsured Californians who currently pay the most in the world for their medications; yet Medi-Cal patients would continue to have the same access to the drugs they need as well.

Having spent $80 million in opposition to Proposition 79 last year, the drug companies are continuing to work in opposition to the bill.

Contact Hanh Kim Quach, policy coordinator, for a sample floor alert for your organization, or to sign on to a floor alert with other advocates. hquach@health-access.org or 916.497.0923 x 206.

Ban on Hospital Overcharging Up For Vote

Prescription drugs are not the only treatments where the uninsured get charged more than everybody else. Hospitals also charge self-pay patients more than insurers for exactly the same service. An important bill, AB774(Chan), would ban the practice of overcharging low-income patients.

After five years, the issue has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, in part, because of court multi-million court settlements by Catholic HealthCare West and Sutter Health to reimburse and forgive low-income and uninsured patients who had been overcharged. The Sacramento Bee wrote a story on the issue this week: http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/14306199p-15189746c.html.

Advocates for the uninsured are hoping this is the year for action, and that California follow New York in passing these consumer protections.

Please contact Hanh Kim Quach, policy coordinator at Health Access, for a sample floor alert to send to lawmakers: 916.497.0923 x 206 or hquach@health-access.org.

Universal Healthcare System Proposal Up In Assembly

SB840 (Kuehl), the California Health Insurance Reliability Act (CHIRA) which would create a universal publicly-financed health care system in California, is expected to have an Assembly vote. Despite Governor Schwarzenegger’s likely opposition, the very act of having this major bill passing the full legislature would send a strong signal about the need for health reform, and the direction of how to cover all Californians and provide some costs savings.. This is the culmination of years of hard work by organizations across the state.

ACTION ITEM: Advocates for SB840(Kuehl) are planning a rally at noon Wednesday August 30 at the State Capitol, Sacramento.

BILL UPDATE

Below is a list of bill of interest to health advocates, including their current location:

Headed for the Governor’s Desk

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