Key Bill Pass Health Committees, Capping a Productive Half-Year of Progress

Earlier this week, the Assembly and Senate Health Committees passed a series of key patient protection bills to increase transparency and protect consumers from unfair health care costs. Sponsored by Health Access California, these measures would prevent patients from facing surprise out-of-network medical bills and mid-year cost-sharing increases, and provide notice of unjustified premium rate hikes, rising prescription drugs costs, and patients’ rights to timely appointments and medical interpreters.

This was the culmination of a busy first half of 2016, which saw significant progress not just on this consumer protection agenda, but also on the state budget and restorations and investments in health and human services; on winning key conditions to health insurance mega-mergers; on public health and the enactment of the most sweeping smoking prevention legislation in a generation; and in advancing the goal of #Health4All at the state and county level, to expand coverage to all Californians regardless of immigration status.

Even with these advances that we further detail below, more work is required to solidify these gains. Health Access California needs your help to bank these victories and take advantage of the other opportunities for progress in 2016. We invite your membership so that Health Access can be stronger as a coalition organization when we seek to win new benefits on behalf of California consumers and communities–from patient protection legislation to new revenues on the ballot to allowing the state to invest in health and other vital services.

Below are just some of the successes we’ve acheived already this year. With your membership and contribution, we can acheive many more victories to come.

Patients’ Rights and Other Key Legislation

Even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Californians continue to complain about unfair health care costs. Some relief is on the way with a package of patient protection bills sponsored by Health Access California:

Four of these bills passed the Senate Health Committee in the last two weeks. They include:

·       SB908 (Hernandez) would notify patients of “unreasonable” rate increases and provide a new opportunity to shop around.

·       SB932 (Hernandez) would prevent insurers from raising co-pays and cost-sharing mid-year.

·       SB1010 (Hernandez), co-sponsored with the California Labor Federation, would provide notice and disclosure on rising prescription drug costs.

·       SB1135 (Monning) to provide patients more information about their rights to timely access to care and language access.

Yesterday, the Assembly Health Committee also approved AB72 (Bonta, Bonilla, Dahle, Gonzalez, Maienchein, Santiago, & Wood), new and improved bipartisan legislation to resolve the issue of surprise medical bills, so a patient visiting an in-network hospital or facility doesn’t get a bill of hundreds or thousands of dollars from an out-of-network physician during that visit. Co-sponsored with the California Labor Federation, now with seven joint authors including two Republicans and four members who didn’t support last year’s effort. We are hopeful this will break the logjam we faced last year with AB533, while providing even stronger consumer protection. Read the fact sheet here.

You can also visit our legislative action webpage to find fact sheets and sample letters on these bills. All of the patients’ rights legislation are now in the Appropriations Committee and we expect a vote there and on the legislative floors in August.

For more information on where the bills stand, please see our full bill matrix.

The matrix doesn’t include the bills already signed, such as the budget and the MCO tax as well as the #Health4All bill to open up Covered California. Health Access was also proud to support a package of the most significant tobacco control legislation in decades that included raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 and regulating e-cigarettes.

Progress to #Health4All 

This past year saw historic progress on the goal of expanding health care coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status.

·       In May, we helped launch the expansion of Medi-Cal to cover all children, regardless of immigration status—which means every California child, in every classroom and every playground, now has access to affordable coverage. We have been working to ensure easy transition of children into full-scope Medi-Cal from existing programs like emergency Medi-Cal, county initiatives and Kaiser charity care coverage.

·       Last month, we also highlighted the expansion of a new primary care benefit to many rural Californians, without regard to immigration status, through the 35 counties in CMSP. While a year ago, only 9 counties provided non-emergency care to the undocumented, today that number is 47, with new pilot programs in Contra Costa, Monterey, Sacramento, and elsewhere. This dramatic expansion of county care is spotlighted in Health Access’ new report, “Profiles of Progress: California Counties Taking Steps to a More Inclusive and Smarter Safety Net.”

·       In the last few weeks, the Governor signed SB10 (Lara), which the California Legislature passed—on a bipartisan, supermajority 2/3 vote—to authorize the state to seek a first-in-the-nation federal waiver to allow all Californians, regardless of immigration status, to buy health insurance through Covered California. We have already been meeting with HHS, Treasury and White House officials in Washington, DC in order to smooth the application and consideration process.

Budget and Investing in a Healthier California

A new state budget has passed, and we were pleased that the budget included some investments to key health and human services priorities, including child care, housing, and repealing the maximum family grant policy in CalWORKS. In health care, the budget will limit estate recovery in Medi-Cal to long-term care, undoing a counterproductive and inequitable policy that threatened the family home of low-income Californians in Medi-Cal managed care.

Our Budget Scorecard details the health investments that were included in the state budget—from the restoration of acupuncture as a Medi-Cal benefit to investments in public health programs—as well as what was not included which we will continue to fight for.

This budget included two victories secured earlier this year that brought significant federal money into California to support our health system. One was a new Medicaid waiver, which draws down new federal dollars to spur new innovations in our health system. Health Access worked hard in the development and pursuit of this “Medi-Cal 2020” waiver, which is encouraging delivery system reforms in our public hospitals, improved dental care, smarter and more inclusive safety-net care for the remaining uninsured, and new county efforts to provide integrated “whole person” care.

Health Access also supports the new revamped managed care organization (MCO) tax, which prevented a loss of over a billion dollars in Medi-Cal funding, and allowed for additional investments in home care and services for Californians with developmental disabilities.

This fall, Californians will get to vote on key ballot measures to ensure that resources are available for further investment and restoration in health and other vital services. Health Access is actively working to extend the existing upper-income taxes to prevent new cuts, and strongly supporting the tobacco tax measure, which would not just prevent youth smoking and save lives, but also raise revenues for needed investments in Medi-Cal.

Join Us! Become a Member of Health Access California

Please consider becoming a Health Access California member. Your partnership, and the modest membership contribution, goes a long way, and allows us to be even more active in helping your organization and others be as effective as possible on health policy issues on behalf of your community and constituency.

If you want to donate as an individual, we would welcome that support as well.

With your support, as an organization and/or as an individual, we can work to pass these bills and ballot measures for a healthier California.