The Latest on Health Care Bills

This week, the Assembly and Senate Health Committee as well as the Committees on Governmental Organization and Business and Professions heard a number of bills, including key health measures, including Medi-Cal Estate Recovery (SB 33), County Organized Health Systems (SB 260), Rate Review for Large Group Insurers (SB 546)–all passing out of committee. The big exceptions were tobacco related bills on E-Cigarettes (SB 140) and raising the smoking age (SB151).

The debate around SB 140 (Leno) was perhaps one of the most contentious debates this week. The Assembly Governmental Organization offered Senator Leno four amendments, three of which Senator Leno agreed to, but one which he said would completely undermine the intent of his bill. The amendment which was the focus of the debate would have changed the definition of tobacco to not include e-cigarettes. Senator Leno described the move to exclude e-cigarettes from the definition of tobacco as “dangerous.” Describing the position of himself and the public health and law enforcement groups in response to the amendment, “we all walk away. It is no longer our is a dangerous thing to do.” said Senator Leno. After dueling motions and bringing in the Parliamentarian, the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee ultimately voted in support of all four amendments–at which point Senator Leno disassociated himself and all supporters from the bill by urging a “no” vote. SB 140 (Leno) was held in committee. Seeing the likely outcome, Senator Hernandez pulled the other tobacco bill SB151 from this week’s agenda.

Bills passed our of Health Committees this week include AB 1073 (Ting) which would require translation of labels for prescription medications, SB 33 (Hernandez) which would limit estate recovery in Medi-Cal to the federally required minimum of long-term care services, SB 260 (Monning) which would require County Organized Health System (COHS) plans to be licensed by the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), SB 546 (Leno) which would bring greater transparency to health care premium rate setting for large purchasers, and SB 388 (Mitchell) which would require a health insurance plan’s summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) to be translated into non-English languages consistent with California’s existing language access requirements for other vital documents.

Bills passed last week included AB 1117 (Garcia) which would bring additional resources to the health care system to help improve California’s relatively low vaccination rates for 2-year-olds, and our bill, AB 1305 (Bonta), which would assure that no individual Californian in a family plan has a deductible or out of pocket limit higher than the individual deductible or out of pocket limit.

Key bills sponsored by Health Access California to prevent unfair out-of-pocket costs are due to be heard in Senate and Assembly Health Committee next week, including AB 339 (Gordon) which would ensure consumers get the prescription drugs they need and prevent discrimination against consumes with health conditions; AB 533 (Bonta) which would protect patients from “surprise” bills from out-of-network providers and SB 137 (Hernandez) which would set standards for provider directories. A related Health Access bill, AB 248 (Hernandez) which would address a loophole in current law that allows large employers to provide subminimum coverage to their employees, is eligible to be heard on the Senate floor as soon as next week.