Key Patient Rights Legislation Up Next Week


Yesterday, the Assembly Health Committee passed one consumer protection measure, SB 923 (Hernandez) on a vote of 17-0, to prevent mid-year increases in co-payments and other cost-sharing by a health plan. Other key legislation also authored by Senate Health Committee Chair Dr. Ed Hernandez and sponsored by Health Access California to protect patients from unfair health care costs, including unjustified premium increases (SB908) and prescription drug price hikes (SB1010), was rescheduled from this week to next Tuesday in Assembly Health Committee. Letters of support are due today.

These bills are part of a package of patients rights bills–including some of the most lobbied legislation this session–to help prevent unfair and unreasonable bills, premiums, and cost-sharing, inform consumers of their rights and options, and increase transparency to address the rising cost of care. Consumer advocates are urging California legislators to put patients first and provide real relief from these unfair health costs with their votes next week.

While most of these patients rights bills are in Assembly Health Committee next Tuesday, one measure up in Senate Health Committee on Wednesday is a new and improved effort to address the issue of surprise medical bills. AB 72 (Bonta, Bonilla, Dahle, Gonzalez, Maienschein, and Wood) is a revamped and bipartisan proposal to protect patients from surprise medical bills when they go to in-network hospitals and facilities, so they don’t get unexpected and unfair out-of-network bills from doctors and other providers from that visit. Co-sponsored by Health Access California and the California Labor Federation, the new version includes seeks to resolve the legislative logjam that stalled last year’s AB533 (Bonta), which fell short on the last day of session by just three votes. Since the failure of the legislature to act, California consumers have continued to receive surprise medical bills of hundreds or thousands of dollars from out-of-network providers after using in-network medical facilities. After months of negotiations between lawmakers, advocates, insurers, and business, the revised legislation will include even stronger consumer protections to stop these surprise bills while also ensuring that health professionals are fairly reimbursed for their work. AB72 is slated to be heard in Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, June 29th.

The most contested consumer protection bill next week is in Assembly Health Committee with SB 1010 (Hernandez) to provide transparency to soaring prescription drug prices for both public and private purchasers, as well as greater disclosure of prescription drug cost trends. In particular, the bill would require 60-day notice for prescription drug price hikes. California law requires such notice and disclosure for almost every player in the health system in order to reduce costs and improve quality. Last Tuesday, Health Access California and the California Labor Federation launched a digital campaign to call out Big Pharma in their attempts to operate behind a veil of secrecy, asking #WhatsPharmaHiding.

“Every dollar that goes to rising premiums is a dollar that does not go into workers’ pockets or to employers to expand their business and create more jobs,” said Steve Smith, Communications Director for the California Labor Federation. “Drug costs are increasing faster than other parts of the health care industry, driving up the cost of coverage for workers, employers and taxpayers. SB 1010 is an important first step to opening up the black box of prescription drug price increases, arming workers and employers with tools to help contain health care costs. AB 72 will protect workers from surprise medical bills that take money out of workers’ pockets, even when they do the right thing and go to an in-network provider.” He continued, “The California Labor Federation is proud to stand with Health Access and other groups today in support of this package of bills.”

Betsy Imholz, Special Projects Director for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports noted that, “Consumer Reports’ survey results and the hundreds of California stories we have collected vividly illustrate that a significant number of insured Californians, through no fault of their own, are stuck with unexpected medical bills and drug price increases.” Imholz continued, “Families spending their hard earned dollars on health insurance premiums each month deserve the protection AB 72 will provide from these unfair, surprise out-of-network extra charges. SB 1010 provides the transparency on prescription drug prices essential to creating a competitive marketplace and fair negotiating landscape to contain costs for the state and all purchasers, workers and consumers.”

Also rescheduled for next week’s Assembly Health Committee is SB 908 (Hernandez) that would inform Californians if the health plan they are in is charging a premium hike that is determined to be “unreasonable” or “unjustified”, and give consumers time to shop for another plan.

“It is unacceptable so many consumers have been stuck with health insurance rate hikes that are unreasonable and unjustified. SB 908 will ensure consumers are notified if their rate isn’t justified and given the option to find a better deal for their dollar,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. “Californians expect and should have assurance that their insurance co-pays and deductibles will not unexpectedly increase mid-year.”

The Assembly Health Committee will also hear next Tuesday SB 1135 (Monning), which would better inform patients of their right to timely care and language access, in the packets of mail they already send.

“With more low-income and communities of color now in the health system under the Affordable Care Act, it now more crucial than ever to prevent these unfair costs that could be destabilizing for the family’s finances,” said Sara de Guia, executive director of the California Pan Ethnic Health Network. “Patients should be informed of their rights and options. We strongly support SB1135, so Californians know they can get the care they need, and also have the right to a medical interpreter and a timely appointment.”

Health Access California would greatly appreciate any help to support on our package of patients’ rights legislation, much of which will be up next week in committee, including SB908, SB1010, SB1135 on Tuesday in Assembly Health Committee, and AB72 on Wednesday June 29th in Senate Health Committee.Our website has a fact sheet on the five bills of the 2016 PATIENTS’ RIGHTS LEGISLATION PACKAGE.

Here’s our legislative action webpage, with fact sheets and sample letters—many of which are due today: Our website has fact sheets on all the bills, including SB1010(Hernandez) on prescription drug price notice and disclosure  and AB72, the new and improved bipartisan legislation to resolve the issue of surprise medical bills.