Key legislation to make health care more affordable passed fiscal committees in the California Legislature, setting up high-stakes floor votes and budget negotiations in the next few weeks. The proposals would expand health coverage, increase affordability for hundreds of thousands of Californians, and reduce health care costs overall, and are all supported by the #Care4AllCA campaign made up of 70 consumer and community groups.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed key bills that could save California consumers hundreds of millions of dollars a year, including AB 1611(Chiu) to stop “surprise” emergency room bills, and AB 731 (Kalra) to expand and improve rate review and oversight of premiums increases. Both bills, co-sponsored by Health Access California and the California Labor Federation with strong support from consumer, labor, and community organizations, face industry opposition, by hospitals and health plans respectively, as they need to pass floor votes in the next two weeks in order to proceed this year.
Californians can save hundreds of millions of dollars a year if these key health reforms pass, despite industry opposition by hospitals and health plans. In the next few days, California legislators can close the loopholes in our law to stop surprise medical bills that are causing many Californians financial stress even after the actual stress of an emergency has passed. When Californians go to the emergency room, they should focus on getting care and getting well, not getting a bill. With these upcoming votes, California Assemblymembers have the opportunity to save consumers millions by preventing outrageous ER bills and expand a proven practice that has successfully gotten health plans to roll back or retract unreasonable rate increases. California voters have been clear about needing relief from high health costs, and legislators now have a clear opportunity to side with their constituents, even in the face of industry opposition.
The Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees passed out several bills, including SB 65 (Pan) and AB 174 (Wood) to increase affordability assistance to Californians buying coverage on their own through Covered California. Other proposals would expand Medi-Cal, including for low-income undocumented immigrants as in SB 29 (Durazo) and AB 4 (Bonta, Chiu, Santiago), and for low-income seniors in AB 715 (Wood).
On the separate track of the budget, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services voted to include specific investments towards these goals. This includes $300 million more in affordability assistance for those purchasing coverage in Covered California than what Governor Newsom proposed in his budget. The Senate Subcommittee also voted to go beyond the Governor’s budget proposal in expanding Medi-Cal to more seniors, including those excluded by the so-called “senior penalty” and those excluded due to immigration status. Health Access California has a budget scorecard to track these health investment proposals, at: www.health-access.org/budgetscorecard2019
Especially in our high cost of living state, millions of Californians still struggle to made ends meet and pay their health care premiums and cost-sharing. The state budget must include more meaningful affordability assistance and help more low- and middle-income Californians to get into coverage, which would strengthen the system and help bring down premiums for everyone. The Senate has take several steps to include more low-income seniors in Medi-Cal, who are now unfairly excluded for income or immigration status. Californian seniors have significant health care needs, and this will make sure our Medi-Cal program can address these issues that impact our entire community. Our health care system works better and benefits all Californians when everyone is covered.
These bold proposals — to invest in greater affordability assistance, to continue the individual requirement to have coverage at the state level, and to expand Medi-Cal — will work together to help Californians with accessing and affording health care in multiple ways. Listening to the voters in the recent health care election, the Legislature is right to go beyond the significant steps the Governor has laid out in order to get to a real down-payment towards the goal of universal health care this year. Low- and middle-income Californians across the state need the help as soon as possible, to be able to afford care and coverage.
The Care4All California campaign of over 70 health, consumer, and community organizations proposed many parts of this agenda last year, and are backing over 20 bills and budget items this year, many aligned with and building on Governor Newsom’s goals. Last year, the campaign advanced 20 bills and budget items last year, and had eight pieces of legislation signed into law.