Special session hearing and votes–today and this week!

Today and this week starts the first hearings and votes of a special session of the California Legislature, called by Governor Jerry Brown to implement the Affordable Care Act, and get California ready to take advantage of the benefits available starting in January 1, 2014.

In Governor Brown’s release of his proposed 2013-14 budget earlier this month, California committed to the historic Medicaid expansion in the ACA, that would expand coverage to over one million Californians. In his State of the State speech, Governor Brown cited California’s leadership in putting place the new options and consumer protections under the federal law, and called the special session to move forward. In the next week, key legislative committees will consider and vote on legislation to streamline eligibility and enrollment in Medi-Cal, and to ban pre-existing condition denials and put in place other consumer protections.

Decisions made in Sacramento in the next few weeks will determine if California will maximize the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and our health system and our families who need all the help we can get. California needs to move quickly on health reform implementation, new insurance consumer protections, and Medicaid expansion, so we are ready to start enrolling Californians in new options and new coverage in October of this year–in less than eight short months.

The hearings this week and the issues they will cover include the following:

* Today, Tuesday afternoon, the Assembly Health Committee will consider and vote on AB x1 1 (Perez), to streamline and simplify the eligibility rules for Medi-Cal. We need to not just expand Medicaid, but make it easier for Californians to get on and stay on coverage, by removing costly administrative barriers and burdens.With electronic verification systems, California no longer needs outdated and cumbersome paperwork requirements that cost more money and prevent people from getting needed coverage.

* Tomorrow, Wednesday, both the Assembly Health Committee in the morning, and the Senate Health Committee in the afternoon, will hold a hearing and vote on AB x1 2 and SB x1 2, the consumer protections to prevent denials because of pre-existing conditions, and other rules governing the individual insurance market. State legislation is needed to give state regulators the authority to enforce the law, and to decide on details to adapt these new consumer protections to the California market. The goal is not just banning denials or discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, but to get insurers to actually compete on cost and quality and customer service, rather than on avoiding sick people. 

* Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee, in regular legislative session, will hold an informational hearing on the proposed health care budget, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal simplification and expansion, and our commitment to the remaining uninsured. We will be testifying that California should make a commitment to enroll millions of Californians by day one, January 1, 2014. But even if we are successful in covering half or even two-thirds of the uninsured, we will still need a safety-net that survives and thrives, that will be the last resort for the 3-4 million Californians who remain uninsured.

Health Access and allied consumer advocates are scheduled to testify at each of these hearings. These reforms are essential efforts to making reform real on the ground here in our state. California has a historic opportunity, with the Affordable Care Act, to address the urgent issues in the health system we all rely on. California must continue to lead in bringing the benefits of the federal law to the state, from putting in place key consumer protections to drawing down desperately needed federal dollars.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.