Major Bills to Expand Health Care Access and Lower Costs Pass CA Assembly

  • AB 716 (Boerner) to stop surprise ambulance bills and AB 4 (Arambula) to open up Covered California to all regardless of immigration status passed the Assembly floor with bipartisan votes.
  • Bills to increase health industry accountability on costs pass including AB 1092 (Wood) and AB 616 (Rodriguez).
  • Other key #Care4AllCA priorities to improve the health system for consumers also move ahead.

SACRAMENTO, CA – This week a number of key health care bills passed the California Assembly and now move on to the State Senate. Two bills that will have major impacts on health cost and coverage for Californians are AB 716 by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner which passed on unanimous 80-0 vote, to end the practice of sending consumers surprise ground ambulance bills, and AB 4 by Assemblymember Arambula, to open up Covered California to all regardless of immigration status, which also passed with bipartisan support. Both bills build on years of work to improve California’s health system for consumers.

AB 716 rectifies a major issue for health consumers. When consumers receive a bill for an out-of-network cost they were unaware of, it can be financially destabilizing, especially for low- and moderate-income Californians who lack significant savings. California has protected consumers from receiving these bills after a medical procedure, but a gap in law remains for ground ambulance services. Californians often face ambulance bills of $1,000 or more. Many Californians have reported not calling 911 for legitimate fear of the bill, putting their health at risk. In fact, a new report by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network found that cost concerns and coverage uncertainty caused communities of color to disproportionately avoid accessing emergency services. Health Access has collected stories from across the state of Californians affected by these surprise ambulance bills.

AB 716 prohibits ambulance providers from sending a patient any bill beyond the in-network cost-sharing amount. It will also give consumers more time to pay their bill before being sent to collections.

“During a medical emergency, Californians should only be focusing on getting the immediate health care they need, not if they will face medical debt,” said Katie Van Deynze, policy and legislative advocate with Health Access California, the sponsor of the bill. “With AB 716, Californians will have more financial security during and after a medical emergency and will be less hesitant to call 911 out of fear of a large surprise bill.”

Along with AB 716, the State Assembly also passed AB 4 (Arambula) which will allow access to Covered California health plans for all Californians, regardless of immigration status, a priority of the #Health4All coalition.

Though California has made historic expansions in Medi-Cal coverage for all regardless of immigration status, an estimated 520,000 Californians who are ineligible for Medi-Cal remain uninsured, simply due to their immigration status, according to a recent report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Undocumented Californians have been explicitly and unjustly excluded from accessing and purchasing marketplace health care plans since they were established under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2009.

By directing Covered California to apply for a federal waiver under section 1332 of the ACA, AB 4 would waive the specific section that explicitly prevents undocumented individuals from purchasing coverage in Covered California. Such a waiver would allow undocumented Californians, over 70% of whom are in mixed-status families, to purchase coverage in Covered California with their own money—without subsidies, at least for now.

“Even with our state’s progress, we cannot get to a truly universal, efficient, and equitable system until everyone has access to care regardless of their income or immigration status,” said Jose Torres Casillas, Legislative Advocate for Health Access California, a co-chair of the #Health4All coalition with the California Immigrant Policy Center. “AB 4 would make it easier for over half a million Californians to get coverage, which would provide health and financial benefits not just to them and their families, but the health system and state as a whole.”

Other notable bills to pass their first houses include #Care4AllCA priority legislation to help improve health care industry accountability on costs and improve care quality & equity:

  • AB 1092 (Wood) would expand State oversight over health plan mergers which can often lead to fewer choices for consumers and less competition, with little to no benefit to consumers or purchasers.
  • AB 616 (Rodriguez) which closes a gap in publicly accessible financial data which will help advance California’s efforts to limit health care cost growth.
  • AB 1157 (Ortega) to improve access to durable medical equipment in private health plans.
  • AB 608 (Schiavo) which expands the eligibility period for access to comprehensive perinatal services in Medi-Cal.
  • AB 665 (Carrillo) to ensure that young people ages 12 and up and utilize their Medi-Cal benefits for outpatient mental health treatment.
  • SB 238 (Wiener) which requires an automatic review of health plan denials of child & youth mental health services.

All bills now head for consideration in the opposite house.