HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Sunday, April 10th, 2005

BIG WEEK: KEY HEALTH CONSUMER BILLS UP FOR VOTES

  • Tuesday’s Assembly Committee to Vote on Prescription Drug Bills, Consumer Protections Against Hospital Overcharging, Oversight of High-Deductible Plans;
  • Children’s Coverage to be Heard Wednesday in Senate Health Committee; Town Hall in Evening;
  • Also: Briefings on Hospital Financing; Multicultural Health; and Medicare Part D Implementation

On Tuesday, April 12th, the Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, is slated to hear testimony and consider bills on many issues of great interest to health care consumers. Health Access California, the state’s health care consumer advocacy coalition, and a range of consumer, senior, children’s, labor, religious, and community groups will be supporting bills to make prescription drugs affordable, provide protections against hospital overcharging, and place oversight over rising out-of-pocket costs.

HOSPITAL OVERCHARGING: The Assembly Health Committee will vote on AB774 (Chan), sponsored by Health Access California, which would limit charges to the uninsured and underinsured to what public insurance programs pay for the same service, and provide other consumer protections against unfair billing practices. When vetoing a similar version of this bill last year, the Governor challenged the hospital industry to abide by their voluntary guidelines against overcharging, or else. California is the epicenter of this issue, which has gotten national press attention and been the subject of high-profile lawsuits around the nation and of Congressional hearings. For a fact sheet on the issues, visit the Health Access website at: http://www.health-access.org/ab774_facts.htm

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: During a special order currently slated for 2pm, the Assembly Health Committee will also hear nine bills to reduce the cost and increase the safety of prescription drugs. For fact sheet on the bills supported by the “OuRx” Coalition, and the issue of prescription drugs, go to the Health Access website: http://www.health-access.org/ourx.htm

Of particular note is AB75 (Frommer), which would provide meaningful discounts for prescription drugs to millions of Californians. Unlike the drug industry’s counter proposal (SB19) that is supported by the Governor, AB75 (and the similar Cal Rx Plus ballot measure that Health Access is sponsoring) would use the purchasing power of the state to leverage better prices, and make those discounts available to a wider range of Californians, including seniors, the uninsured, and the underinsured. A comparison chart of these measures in available at the website above.

HIGH DEDUCTIBLES: Another bill, AB977 (Nava), also sponsored by Health Access California, would bring some oversight to protect the increasing number of Californians who have high-deductible health plans. It would require the Department of Managed Health Care to take public comment on the issue of out-of-pocket costs, just as they do now on specific benefits and other issues. This issue has been raised when a recent Harvard study indicated that a majority of bankruptcies due to medical problems and medical bills were of insured people dealing with high costs.

COVERAGE FOR ALL CHILDREN

On Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee will consider SB437 (Escutia), to expand health coverage for all California children, by building on the work of the Medi-Cal and Healthy Families program and many county-based initiatives, as well as streamlining these program so it is easy for children to be enrolled and stay on coverage.

The hearing will be followed in the evening by a major TOWN HALL to focus on the issue of covering all children, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm, at the Sacramento Convention Center, Exhibition Hall A, 12th and J St. That event, which is expecting nearly 3,000 people, is sponsored by PICO California and the 100% Campaign.

OTHER EVENTS OF NOTE FOR HEALTH ADVOCATES

MONDAY: L.A. Briefing on Hospital Financing: Southern California advocates that want the background on the controversial federal Medicaid waiver on hospital financing are invited to a Health Access briefing: “Hospital Financing: An Informational and Strategy Convening for Health Advocates” will be on Monday April 11th, from 1:00pm till 3:00 pm at the auditorium at SEIU 660 (500 S. Virgil St., Los Angeles.) The briefing will go over the specifics, explain what the proposed changes might be, provide the latest update on the negotiations, and what the impacts are. Speakers include Rachel Kagan of the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, Jonathan Freedman, County of Los Angeles, Yolanda Vera of LA Health Action, and Kathy Ochoa of SEIU 660. Please RSVP to Idabelle Fosse at idabelle@health-access.org or 213-748-5287.

TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY: CPEHN’s Multicultural Legislative Agenda Convening: Join the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) as they explore the impact of upcoming legislation and the state budget on the health of California’s communities of color with a presentation of our firstever Multicultural Health Legislative Agenda. Their Agenda addresses hospital overcharging, universal health coverage for children, school food nutrition standards, refugee social services, the prohibition on the use of children as interpreters in medical settings, and state budget cuts to Medi-Cal. On Tuesday in Los Angeles: Time: 11:00am – 2:00pm Location: Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 1145 Wilshire Boulevard, 2nd Floor, Validated parking available (Automatic Parking Lot, 1317 Wilshire Blvd.) On Wednesday in San Diego: Time: 11:00am – 2:00pm Location: Tubman Chavez Multicultural Center, 415 Euclid Avenue, San Diego, CA. Similar events will be in Fresno and Oakland next week. For questions please contact (510) 832-1160 or info@cpehn.org

FRIDAY: Sacramento Briefing and Discussion on the New Medicare Part D & Dually Eligible Medicare/Medi-Cal Beneficiaries: Nearly one million of California’s most vulnerable Medi-Cal beneficiaries will lose their Medi-Cal prescription drug coverage on January 1, 2006. The briefing will discuss that: Vulnerable seniors & individuals with disabilities will be at risk of treatment interruptions and loss of continuity of care; The new coverage will provide fewer prescription drug benefits than Medi-Cal; Effective and appropriate outreach will be needed to avoid confusion and fear in this most vulnerable population; The state will need to effectively use opportunities to reach low-income Medicare beneficiaries who may be eligible for, but not yet enrolled in Medi-Cal or Medicare Savings Programs; Beneficiaries will need assistance obtaining low-income subsidies to avoid unnecessarily paying for the costs of their medications. Friday, April 15, 2005 11:00 am – 2:00 pm Westminister Presbyterian Church 1300 N Street, Sacramento, California. Sponsored by numerous senior, consumer, and advocacy organizations. Please RSVP to Arlene Peterson with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, 916 442-0753 ext 11, or by E-Mail – Apeterson@wclp.org Please RSVP–Space is limited Box lunches will be available.

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

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