HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
ASSEMBLY HEALTH COMMITTEE PASSES KEY BILLS
On Hospital Overcharging, Prescription Drug Marketing, Etc.
The Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Dario Frommer, has recently passed noteworthy legislation that would help health care consumers, both the insured and the uninsured. These bills now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
* HOSPITAL OVERBILLING: On Tuesday, the Assembly Health Committee, passed AB232, to provide consumer protections for self-pay hospital patients. Remarkably, the initial vote was bipartisan and unanimous, 17-0, despite some hospital opposition. Authored by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan and sponsored by Health Access California, with strong support from Consumers Union, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and other organizations, the bill would ensure that patients are informed of their consumer rights and financial options; that they are given time before being sent to collections; and that most patients–up to certain income levels–are not overcharged beyond the rates of Medi-Cal, Medicare, or worker’s compensation. As part of this campaign, Health Access is starting a weekly flyer, through the legislative year, the “Uninsured and Overcharged Patient of the Week.” The first edition is ATTACHED.
* PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: The Assembly Health Committee also passed another important bill, AB103 (Reyes), that would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to disclose information about gifts and other marketing expenses directed to health care providers. Actively supported by a broad range of groups, including the California Labor Federation, CalPIRG, Congress of California Seniors, Older Women’s League, and others, the bill just passed, with Democrats generally voting for the measure and Republicans voting against it. Democratic Assemblymembers Chavez, Nakano, and Wolk listened to testimony but did not vote.
* CULTURAL COMPETENCY IN HMOs: Two weeks ago, on March 4th, the Assembly Health Committee passed AB 154 (Chan), which would require health plans in the Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs to submit annual reports regarding the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services. With support from a range of organizations representing consumers and communities of color, the bill squeaked by, 13-9, with Democrats largely in support, and Republicans opposing the bill, with Assemblymembers Richman, Pacheco, Bates, and Haynes speaking against it.
* BUDGET REVIEW: On Monday, March 17th, the Assembly Health Committee sponsored a joint hearing with the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Assemblywoman Judy Chu, to review the cuts to Medi-Cal eligibility and retention. For three and a half hours in the evening, the committee grilled Administration officials about proposed cuts that would serve to deny basic health coverage to over a million Californians. Several organizations testified about the potential effects of quarterly status reports, eligibility cuts to the 1931b, aged and disabled, and transitional Medi-Cal programs, and the new efforts at county administrative oversight designed to have more people fall off health coverage. No votes were taken.
The Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Senator Wes Chesbro, will also consider Medi-Cal cuts, next week. The hearing is on Monday, March 24th at 1:30pm, at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
ATTACHED is an updated Health Advocacy Calendar with that hearing and other events of note for advocates for the uninsured.
Anthony E. Wright
1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814
Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921