HEALTH ACCESS ALERT
Monday, April 17th, 2006

LAWMAKERS BACK; DEADLINES LOOM FOR LEGISLATION IN HEALTH COMMITTEES

  • Last Two Weeks of April to Feature Bills on Coverage, Costs, Drugs, and More
  • Key Legislation, on Rx drugs and MRMIP, in Assembly Health Committee April 18th
  • List of Bills of Interest to Health Care Consumer Advocates
  • Also: Medicare Part D Emergency Drug Coverage Extended to May 15th

The legislators here in Sacramento come back from spring break today, beginning a flurry of legislative and budget activity. In these last two weeks in April, policy committees will have packed agendas, as legislators seek to move their bills out of committee before constitutional deadlines.

BILL LIST: A full list of active bills of interest to health advocates appears at the end of this alert.

COMMITTEE HEARINGS ON CRUCIAL HEALTH-RELATED LEGISLATION
(Dates for bill hearings are subject to change at the author’s request.)

Assembly Health Committee, in particular, will feature a range of bills of interest to health consumer advocates on Tuesday, April 18th and April 25th. Legislation will also be considered on the Senate Health Committee agendas of April 19th and April 26th.

Here, and at the end of this alert, are some of the bills, along with the position of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition. Here’s a sampling of the bills coming up in committee in the next two weeks:

ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITTEE — Tuesday, April 18

  • AB1971 (Chan) — Extend the sunset for the MRMIP program for those who are denied coverage in the individual market — SUPPORT
  • AB2877 (Frommer) – Establish a website directing consumers to sources of safe, affordable drugs in other countries – SUPPORT
  • AB2889 (Frommer) – Would prohibit health plans from discriminating against people have been insured, but also have chronic or serious illnesses – SUPPORT

SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE — Wednesday, April 19

  • SB1683 (Scott) — Requires pharmaceutical companies to report the results of their clinical trials — SUPPORT

ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITTEE — Tuesday, April 25

  • AB2170 (Chan)- Would create a consumer report card on Medicare Part D prescription drug plans – SUPPORT
  • AB2281 (Chan) – Provides information and protections to consumers with high-deductible health plans.– SUPPORT
  • AB2450 (Richman) – Would obligate every Californian to purchase bare-bones health coverage – OPPOSE
  • AB2911 (Nunez/Perata) — Would create a prescription drug discount program in California — SUPPORT

SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE — Wednesday, April 26

  • SB1702 (Perata/Nunez) — Would create a prescription drug discount program in California — SUPPORT

SENATE REVENUE AND TAXATION COMMITTEE — Wednesday, April 26

  • SB1584 (Runner/Ackerman) — Allows holders of Health Savings Accounts to receive a tax credit in California. — OPPOSE
  • SB1639 (Dutton) — Gives businesses tax breaks if they contribte to employees’ Health Savings Accounts. — OPPOSE

The Health Committee is a first, but crucial step, in the life of these bills. Please register your support or opposition for these bills for next week by writing to lawmakers on the appropriate committees by Wednesday of this week.

For a sample letter on any of these bills, or those listed below, contact Hanh Kim Quach, Policy Coordinator, Health Access California, at 916-497-0923, or hquach@health-access.org.

MEDICARE PART D EMERGENCY EXTENSION GRANTED THROUGH MAY 16TH

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on Friday his decision to extend emergency prescription drug coverage to the one million seniors and people with disabilities who are eligible for both Medi-Cal and the new Medicare Part D private drug coverage. Under SB1233, this extension will continue to at least May 16, 2006, but cannot be extended unless there is new legislation is passed.

ORIGINAL PROBLEM: This means that these “dual-eligible” seniors and people with disabilities will be able to continue to rely on Medi-Cal to cover needed medications, in the event that their primary coverage under Medicare Part D fails to do so. This emergency coverage was put in place by California and numerous other states in January when there were widespread problems reported about the access to drugs for these patients, who had all had their drug coverage switched from Medicaid to Medicare Part D private plans at the beginning of this year. The Administration reports that over 220,000 individuals have received assistance through the emergency program in the past three months at least once.

CONTINUED NEED; DISCONTINUED FEDERAL FUNDING: While the emergency coverage is not getting the volume of use at the very beginning of the program, the use has plateaued at about an average of 9,000 prescription drugs a day, suggesting that ongoing problems are continuing. Advocates were pleased with the extension, especially in light of the federal government’s lack of commitment to reimburse the state for its costs after March 31st. As of April 14th, the state has spent over $53 million, $47 million through March 31st, which will get reimbursed by the federal government. While the state has requested further federal assistance (since this emergency is to remedy a problem with this federal Medicare Part D program and the private plans under it), the $6 million already spent and any additional going forward will likely be the state’s reponsibility to get reimbursement from the private Part D plans.

ONGOING SOLUTION NEEDED: An ongoing problem requires an ongoing solution, and many senior, low-income, health, and consumer advocates will be urging the Administration and the Legislature to create an ongoing “safety-net” coverage for these one million “dual-eligible” seniors and people with disabilities. In particular, even if the system issues of this program were all fixed, these vulnerable patients would be faced with more costs and less comprehensive coverage. California could follow other states in ensuring that these seniors and people with disabilities maintain the same coverage they had last year under Medi-Cal, by having Medi-Cal pay their co-payments, and cover drugs that the private plans won’t cover. That budget item is listed below, along with other bills of interest to health advocates.

BILLS OF INTEREST TO HEALTH ADVOCATES

Health Access is also following more than two dozen bill in the state Legislature this year. Below is a list of the Health advocates are actively working on the following list of bills, which includes efforts to expend health care coverage and provide consumer protections for patients. Also listed is the position of Health Access California .

Health Care Coverage

Major Coverage Expansions

* SB437/ Escutia: Strong Support
Expands public insurance programs to provide comprehensive health coverage to *all* children

* SB840/ Kuehl: Strong Support
As the California Health Insurance Reliability Act, creates a universal, publicly-financed (single-payer) health care system, similar to Medicare

Related Legislation on Access and Coverage

* AB1840/Horton: Support
Requires the state to disclose names of employers who, rather than providing health coverage, have many of their workers and their families on Medi-Cal and Healthy Families

* AB1948/Montanez: Support
Simplifies application for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families using CHDP Gateway and electronic application

*AB1971/Chan: Support
Extends sunset for Managed Risk Medical Insurance Program, which covers patients who are unable to get coverage elsewhere

*AB2889/Frommer: Support
Prohibits health plans from discriminating against people who have been insured, but who have chronic or serious illnesses

*SB1448/Kuehl: Support
Expands coverage using money from state’s federal hospital waiver

*SB1622/Escutia: Support
Gives employers a notice to be passed along to employees, advising them of the availability of Healthy Families and Medi-Cal

*AB1952/Nation: Oppose Unless Amended
Repeals HMO reform, while forcing businesses to provide health coverage and individuals to purchase it

*AB2450/Richman: Oppose
Obligates every Californian to purchase skeleton health coverage.

*AB2473/Wyland: Oppose
Intends to require personal identification for any kind of state-funded health care benefits.

Consumer Protections Against Medical Debt

Hospital Overcharging of Self-Pay Patients

*AB774/Chan: Support-Sponsor
Provides consumer protections against abusive hospital billing and collections practices, including those that charge self-pay patients multiple times what insurers pay for the same service.

Underinsurance and High-Deductible Health Plans

*AB977/Nava: Support-Sponsor
Allows the state to monitor and determine the fairness of out-of-pocket costs permitted by health plans

*AB2281/Chan: Strong Support
Provides information and protections to consumers with high-deductible health plans

*AB2010/Plescia: Oppose
Allows holders of Health Savings Accounts to receive a tax credit in California

*SB1584/ Runner-Ackerman: Oppose
Allows holders of Health Savings Accounts to receive a tax credit in California

*AB2737/Nakanishi: Oppose
Gives businesses tax breaks if they contribute to employees’ Health Savings Accounts

*SB1639/Dutton: Oppose
Gives businesses tax breaks if they contribute to employees’ Health Savings Accounts

Affordable Prescription Drugs

*AB75/Frommer: Support
Would establish a prescription drug discount program, to use the purchasing power of the state of California (through its Medi-Cal program) to negotiate the best possible drug prices for 8-10 million Californians who are uninsured or underinsured

*AB2911/Nunez-Perata: Support
Establishes a prescription drug discount program

*SB1702/Perata-Nunez:Support
Establishes a prescription drug discount program

*AB2877/Frommer:Support
Establishes a website listing sources that are safe for purchasing more affordable drugs from other countries.

*SB452/Alarcon: Support
Requires Medi-Cal contracts with drug manufacturers to be disclosed to the chairs of relevant legislative committees

Patient Protections

Prescription Drug Safety

* SB1683/Scott:Support
Requires pharmaceutical companies to report the results of all their clinical trials

* AB71/Chan-Frommer: Support
Establishes a clearinghouse for information about the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs that are advertised on television

Medicare Part D Consumer Protections

* Budget Item: Support
Authorizes Medi-Cal to continue to be the safety-net provider of prescription drug coverage for “dual-eligible” seniors and people with disabilities

*AB2170/Chan: Support-Sponsor
Creates a consumer report card on Medicare Part D prescription drug plans

*AB2667/Baca: Support-Sponsor
Allows the state to monitor prescription drug coverage plans in the same way it monitors health plans

*AJR40/Chan-Berg: Support
Calls on federal government to make changes to the Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, including extending the deadline for it.

Insurance Oversight and Other Patient Protections

*AB2607/De La Torre: Support
Provides consumer protections if seniors and people with disabilities in Medi-Cal are placed into mandated managed care

*SB1405/Soto: Support
Creates a Task Force on Reimbursement for Language Services to recommend actions for achieving linguistic access to care

*SB1704/Kuehl: Support
Extends the sunset for the existing California Health Benefits Review program to 2010.

*SB1804/Florez: Support
Requires health insurers to disclose the number of physicians accepting new patients on a county-by-county basis.

*AB2855/Parra: Oppose
Allows fraudulent “discount health plans” without needed consumer protections

*AB2979/Richman: Oppose
Shifts aged, blind and disabled patients into Medi-Cal managed care, which would disrupt care for this vulnerable population

For answers to questions about any of these bills, or to get a copy of a sample letter to submit to the Legislature for any of these bills, contact Hanh Kim Quach, Policy Coordinator, Health Access California, at 916-497-0923, or hquach@health-access.org.

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

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