HEALTH ACCESS CALIFORNIA ALERT

Thursday, September 16th, 2004



WAITING FOR ARNOLD: KEY CONSUMER BILLS STILL PENDING

* Letters Still Needed on Hospital Overcharging, Prescription Drugs, Etc.

* Adminstration Dealing With the Drug Companies

* New Report on Hospital Compliance with “Voluntary Guidelines” on Billing Issues* Governor Opposes Consumer Positions on Key Ballot Measures

* Prop 72 Opposition Ads Start Running; Advocates Rebut “Scare Tactics.”





KEY BILLS PENDING ON GOVERNOR’S DESK; LETTERS STILL NEEDED

With just two weeks to go until the September 30th deadline to sign or veto hundreds of bills, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to make decisions on a range of key bills of great interest to health care consumer advocates. These include a groundbreaking bill to prevent hospitals from overcharging the uninsured; eight bills that attempt to help consumers get access to more affordable prescription drugs; bills to ensure coverage for pre-natal care and pediatric asthma supplies; a bill to provide more information on how consumers are experiencing out-of-pocket costs; and others.



LETTERS NEEDED ASAP: Both letters from individuals (like yourself, a friend, a colleague, etc.) and organizational letters are needed to be sent to the Governor ASAP. A list of these bills to assist health care consumers is available at the Health Access website, along with a copies of the Health Access California letter, to assist you and your organization in crafting your own letter. Health Access California will update this “Legislative Corner” of our website regularly as we get information on whether the Governor has signed or vetoed any of the listed measures. The list and sample letters are available at:

http://www.health-access.org/legislative_info.htm



A separate letter should be sent for each individual bill, to:



The Hon. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Governor

State Capitol

Sacramento, CA 95814

Fax: 916-445-4633





DEVELOPMENTS ON THE PRESCRIPTION DRUG BILLS



Last week, a coalition of senior, consumer, and patient organizations delivered over 40,000 postcards urging Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the eight bills that made up the “OuRx Bill of Rights. ” These groups are holding press conferences around the state tomorrow (Friday) morning, September 17th, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and San Diego. The groups in support include the AARP, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Consumer Federation of California, Senior Action Network, Greenlining Institute, Consumers Union, CALPIRG, California Labor Federation, Health Access California and others.

The Governor has indicated he will likely veto most of the drug bills, especially four bills that make it easier to reimport drugs from Canada that he calls “illegal,” even though other states have taken similar actions, under Republican and Democratic governors. He has yet to give a reason to oppose the other four bills.

The CA Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) will hold an informational hearing on the Governor’s alternative proposal, next TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21st, from 10am–1pm, in Room 4203 of the State Capitol. This “Health and Human Services Agency Pharmacy Assistance Proposal” has been criticized for proposing “discount cards” that have not provided discounts beyond what consumers can current get at Costco and other retailers now.

Press reports indicate that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Kim Belshe, have been on the phone with pharmaceutical company executives to bargain for drug discounts for this program. Since the Governor has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from drugs companies, this seems in apparent violation of the Governor’s pledge not to take money from those industries he negotiates with. The Governor is expected to announce the results of a deal with the drug companies at the same time that he is expected to veto the bills. Consumer advocates are angry at the Governor’s opposition to these bills, and are wary of any alternative deal that doesn’t provide widespread discounts that provide significant savings on the order of what people can get from Canada.

NEW REPORT ON HOSPITAL COMPLIANCE ON BILLING AND COLLECTIONS ISSUES

A report released today by the Health Access Foundation revealed widespread noncompliance by the hospital industry on their treatment of the uninsured. The survey shone a spotlight on another bill on the Governor’s desk, SB 379, to provide first-in-the-nation consumer protections to uninsured and underinsured hospital patients, including to prohibit the practice of hospital overcharging.

This survey of dozens of hospitals throughout California showed that hospitals don’t even meet their own “voluntary guidlines” set forth earlier this year by the California Healthcare Association, made up of the state’s hospitals. The full report is available at:

http://www.health-access.org/docs/HospitalOverchargingReport.doc



Key results of the survey include:


  • Only one of the 40 hospitals surveyed fully complied with the five California Healthcare Association guidelines for which we surveyed.
  • In nearly half (19) of the hospitals, our surveyors found a total lack of compliance with the guidelines on signage: they were not able to find a sign on financial assistance anywhere, including in the areas specifically designated, such as the emergency room and admitting area.
  • Only 16 (40%) of the hospitals had a sign in the emergency room; only 14 (35%) had a sign in the admitting/registration area. Only 4 hospitals had signs in the three recommended locations: the emergency room, the admitting/registration area, and the billing area.
  • When the signs were posted, the signs often did not contain the necessary information the guidelines suggest, including instructions on applying for financial assistance, and a telephone number. Less than a quarter of the hospitals had signs with this crucial information. Only 30% of the hospitals had signs that were bilingual.
  • The survey showed that many staff were not knowledgeable about their hospitals’ policies, and that the hospitals’ websites did not include the relevant information.

The survey results have direct implications for the fate of SB379 (Ortiz), a first-in-the-nation consumer protection bill pending on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk, to end the routine practice of hospital overcharging of the uninsured, and to provide other patient protections. The voluntary guidelines adopted by California hospitals were seen as a way to head off this legislation. Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger’s Office of State Health Planning and Development opposed the bill, citing the voluntary guidelines, and stating that, “it is our understanding that many hospitals are planning to follow these voluntary guidelines. We feel it would most prudent to give this effort a chance to work before legislating in this area.” The Governor has until September 30th to sign or veto this bill, which has gotten national attention.

LETTERS NEEDED ASAP: We believe there is a possibility to convince the Governor to support this bill! Additional letters are greatly needed to Governor Schwarzenegger. A fact sheet on SB379 is available at:

http://www.health-access.org/sb379_fact_sheet.htm

A letter to the Governor from Health Access California on SB 379, which might assist you in crafting your own letter, is available at:

http://www.health-access.org/docs/sb379_hac_guv.doc





GOVERNOR OPPOSES CONSUMER POSITIONS ON PROPOSITIONS 72 & 64



While Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to make decisions on pending legislation, last Friday he did take anti-consumer positions on Propositions 64 & 72. Governor Schwarzenegger echoed the Chamber of Commerce positions to support Proposition 64 and oppose Proposition 72.

Health Access California had voted unanimously in August to join other consumer and community groups in urging a NO vote on Proposition 64, which would restrict consumers ability to hold corporations accountable in court.

Health Access California is also a strong supporter urging citizens to vote YES on Proposition 72, to protect the coverage that millions of Californians get on the job, cap the amount they are forced to pay, and extend such coverage to a million more employees and their families.



“Achieving improved health care access and affordability for all working Californians is a positive goal,” said Schwarzenegger in his Friday afternoon statement. “However, we must find a better way than doing so at the cost of putting employers out of business. Well-intentioned as it may be, Proposition 72 will only reverse California’s recovery and trigger an exodus of jobs from the state.” Dr. Jack Lewin of the California Medical Association responded that most businesses would not be financially impacted by the measure, since they were either too small, or that they already provide basic health coverage. “Prop. 72 addresses some of our most pressing health care problems, and it will lead to a healthier, more productive workforce—to the benefit of every business, taxpayer and working family in California.”

OPPONENTS OF HEALTH CARE MEASURE START RUNNING TV ADS

The opponents of Proposition 72 started running television ads this week. Reminding many of the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads against other health care reform efforts, they feature a couple at a dining room table discussing the measure. The point of the ad is to scare viewers into believing that Prop 72 will negatively impact their own coverage. The ad is available on the opposition website, at:

http://www.stopthehealthtax.org/facts_ads.html



Supporters of the measure rebut those charges, stating that: * If you have good coverage, nothing in Prop 72 requires your employer to change your coverage in any way. * Prop 72 provides protections for those with coverage, capping the amount they have to pay, and preventing their employer from scaling back their coverage too much, or dropping it altogether. * By setting minimum standards for employers to provide private health coverage, similar to the minimum wage, Prop 72 protects the coverage millions of Californians now have on the job, and extends such coverage to one million more. A point-by-point rebuttal of the ad, showing many areas where the ad is false and/or misleading, is available at the supporters website, at:

http://www.yesonprop72.com/site/pp.asp?c=efIOISMEG&b=186583

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

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