Assembly Health Committee Passes Broadened Continuity of Care Protections…

This afternoon, the California Assembly Health Committee met for the first time in the new year. Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan, chair of the Committee, thanked staff who were leaving to other jobs, and welcomed Roger Dunston as the new chief consultant. The bills heard didn’t lack for hot button issues, from abortion to immigration.

One key bill passed on a bipartisan basis was AB369(Pan), on continuity of care for those with cancelled health plans. The bill would allow patients to keep their providers until the end of a treatment, even if they had switched insurers after a plan cancellation. The legislation to adapt the California’s consumer protections on continuity of care is seeking a 2/3 vote to be passed with urgency to apply to new 2014 enrollees in Covered California and the broader individual insurance market. Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, is an organizational sponsor of AB369.

The legislation would extend current California continuity of care consumer protections so that those patients in the middle of treatment who had to switch plans can stay with their providers even if the providers aren’t in network. This bill broadens these current California consumer protections to make the transition to Affordable Care Act health plans smoother for patients. While most people with cancelled plans have transitioned smoothly to new plans, this resolves one of the bigger issues raised for those who changed provider networks, to allow patients to continue with their provider to finish treatment. With this and other bills, California can once again not just implement the federal law, but improve upon it, so our patients maximize the benefit and minimize any problems in this transition. While those who were disrupted by the plan cancellations this year are less than one percent of the state, for those consumers any disruption in care matters, and this provides real help.

Existing California law protects consumers when their provider is terminated or when a consumer is newly covered under a group policy, so that consumer can complete or transition care for up to 12 months, in the case of pregnancy, surgery, terminal illness or acute condition. AB369 broadens the law by applying these consumer protection to plan cancellations as a result of termination of coverage before March 31, 2014.

California’s continuity of care were put in place to protect consumers who lost access to a provider even though they stayed in the same plan–mostly because of a contract dispute between the insurer and provider, but often leaving patients in a lurch; Now that under the Affordable Care Act, patients are no longer locked into one plan because of pre-existing conditions, California can extend these consumer protections, especially to help those who needed to switch during the transition to new health plans. With this bill, California can once again not just implement the federal law, but improve upon it, so patients get better take advantage of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act as smoothly as possible.