By Anthony Wright at the Health-Access Blog
HEALTH ACCESS ALERT
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
HEALTH REFORM DEBATE SHIFTS TO IMPLEMENTATION BILLS IN CA LEGISLATURE
* California Effort Begins to Implement & Improve Federal Health Reform
* Health Committees in Assembly and Senate to Consider Bills in Next Few Weeks
* Today’s Assembly Health Committee to Vote on Bill to Help Kids Stay on Coverage
* Groundwork is Laid for a New Exchange; New Insurer Accountability on Rates; Etc.
* ALERT: Organizational Support Letters Needed to Support Key Reform Bills!
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HEALTH REFORM HAS JUST BEGUN: Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama signed into law a historic health reform package, one that would reform the worst abuses of the insurance industry, secure coverage for those that have it, and provide new and affordable options for those that don’t. One week ago, President Obama approved a “reconciliation” package of improvements to the health reform, the first of many that will be considered in the months and years ahead.
The work to implement and improve health reform at the state level starts today, with state legislation being considered today and over the next few weeks in health policy committees. A series of bills critical to easing California into a smooth transition to health reform is moving through the process.
This afternoon, the Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Bill Monning, will consider several bills, including AB2477 (Jones). The bill will allow for continuous eligibility for children in Medi-Cal, without threatened mid-year status reports that would prevent kids from staying on coverage. This would start to align our eligibility requirements with those of federal health reform.
Most of the other bills are basic consumer protections that would increase accountability for the insurance industry. In some cases, the federal law requires states to act, within certain parameters; other proposals would implement some aspects of health reform early, and in other cases would build on federal health reform but go further. Some bills are up as early as next week in committee, which means organizational letters of support would be due in the next day or two.
One such bill for next week is AB 2042 (Feuer), which would prevent health insurance companies from raising rates more than once per year. This unfair practice is not unheard of. It’s bad enough that Anthem Blue Cross refuses to budge on its outrageous up-to-39% annual increase scheduled for May 1, but they also announced that they may increase their rates over the course of the year. The bill would provide ratepayers some security in being able to predict their health care costs over the course of a year.
There are many other bills coming up in the next week, and insurance companies are already sending in their letters of opposition, on everything from rate regulation to limits on charging children with pre-existing conditions.
ALERT: SEND ORGANIZATIONAL LETTERS OF SUPPORT: These bills need organizational letters of support ASAP. Please send letters to the bill’s author, the chairs of the relevant Health Committees, Senator Elaine Alquist and/or Assemblyman Bill Monning, and members of the relevant policy committee that will review the legislation.
Insurers have already started to get in their opposition letters, and so we need consumer, community, and constituency organizations to submit their letters in support of these specific bills. Contact Health Access for sample letters on some of these bills; a full list of health reform related bills is listed below.
PENDING BILLS TO IMPLEMENT AND IMPROVE HEALTH REFORM Below is a list of health consumer bills currently in the California State Legislature that are intended to implement and improve certain provisions in the federal health reform law and prepare the state for other provisions contained in the law. This list is regularly updated and can be found at www.health-access.org.Creating a Consumer-Friendly & Transparent Individual Insurance Market & Exchange
* AB 1602 (Bass) CALIFORNIA PATIENT PROTECTION & AFFORDABLE HEALTH CHOICES: Would create the California Cooperative Health Insurance Purchasing Exchange (Cal-CHIPE) and expand dependent coverage in private insurance to age 26.
* SB 900 (Alquist) CREATING A CALIFORNIA HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE: Would establish the California Health Insurance Exchange within the California Health and Human Services Agency to make health coverage available and create the California Health Insurance Exchange Fund to be governed by a board appointed by the Legislature.
* SB 890 (Alquist) IMPLEMENTING FEDERAL HEALTH REFORM: Creates rules in the individual market similar to those for Medi-Gap so that insurers cannot cherry-pick individuals based on health risk status. Sets standard of basic health care services for DOI products as well as DMHC products.
Providing Access for Those with Pre-Existing Conditions
* AB 2244 (Feuer) ASSURING KIDS COVERAGE: Requires guaranteed issue, eliminates all pre-existing condition exclusions and phases in modified community rating for children under age 19 in the individual market.
* AB 2470 (De La Torre) REGULATING RESCISSIONS AND MEDICAL UNDERWRITING: Would require regulations to be created that establish standard information and health history questions used by health insurers on application forms, and required insurers to complete medical underwriting and review for accuracy before issuing an individual a health plan contract or policy.
* SB 227 (Alquist) SECURING FUNDING FOR MRMIP, CA’S “HIGH-RISK” POOL: Creates fee on insurers to support California’s high risk pool for those denied for pre-existing conditions.
Continuing and Expanding Coverage
* SB 1088 (Price) ALLOWING YOUNG ADULTS TO STAY ON THEIR PARENTS’ COVERAGE: Would require group health plans to allow young adults to continue on coverage as a dependent up to age 27, however employers are not required to contribute to the cost of coverage for those dependents 23 or older.
* AB 2477 (Jones) KEEPING CHILDREN ON MEDI-CAL COVERAGE/CONTINUOUS ELIGIBILITY: Would adopt rules to expand continuous eligibility in Medi-Cal to children 19 years of age and younger.
Regulating Insurance Company Rates
* AB 2578 (Jones) REQUIRING APPROVAL FOR RATE HIKES: Would require approval by the Department of Managed Health Care or the Department of Insurance of an increase in the amount of premium, co-payment, coinsurance, deductible or other charges under a health plan.
* SB 1163 (Leno) PROVIDING SUNSHINE ON PRICE GOUGING: Would require health plans to provide, in writing, specific reasons for denial of coverage or for charging higher than the standard rates for coverage.
* SB 316 (Alquist) ENSURING PREMIUM DOLLARS GO TO PATIENT CARE/MEDICAL LOSS RATIO: Would require health plans to provide written disclosure of the medical loss ratio (the ratio of premium costs to health services paid) whenpresenting a plan contract or policy for sale to an individual purchaser or to groups of 50 or fewer individuals.
* AB 2042 (Feuer) PROHIBITING MID-YEAR RATE HIKES: Insurers and HMOs cannot change or increase premiums, cost sharing or benefits more often than once a year.
Setting Minimum Standards
* AB 786 (Jones) SETTING BASIC INSURANCE MARKET STANDARDS: Would sort health insurance policies into a number of categories, based on benefit comprehensiveness and cost-sharing. Would set a minimum standard that requires coverage of doctor and hospital care and an overall limit on out-of-pocket costs, thus eliminating deceptive “junk” insurance.
* AB 1825 (De La Torre) ENSURING MATERNITY CARE: Would require most health plans to cover maternity services.
* AB 1600 (Beall) REQUIRING MENTAL HEALTH PARITY: Would require most health plans to provide coverage for the diagnoses and treatment of a mental illness.
Additional Consumer Protections
* SB 56 (Alquist) FACILITATING A PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE OPTION: Would authorize county-organized health plans and other health benefits programs to form joint ventures in order to create integrated networks of public health plans that pool risk and share networks, subject to the requirements of the Knox-Keene Act.
* AB 2110 (De La Torre) PROVIDING PREMIUM GRACE PERIODS: Would extend the grace period for premium payments from 10 or 31 days up to 50 days for most plans regulated by the Department of Insurance.