2012 Calendar: Many Opportunities for Policymakers and Voters to Improve Our Health System
By Anthony Wright
The new year of 2012 will be a major year for health care, as policymakers and voters are set to make key decisions on health policy throughout the year.
Policymakers and voters have the opportunity in 2012 to greatly improve the health care system that we all rely on. Californians will have an opportunity to demand a balanced solution to our budget crisis that brings in the revenues needed to sustain health, education, and other vital services. California will also continue to implement and improve upon the federal health law that has already provided new options and benefits to millions of Californians, and get ready for reform in 2014.
We in California made significant advances toward the promise of health reform in 2011, but as this calendar of highlights from 2012 shows, there's a lot more work to do in 2012. As we approach the end-of-year deadline, we hope you can contribute to Health Access Foundation to continue the progress. Through our joint efforts in 2012, from expansions of coverage to essential benefits to the Exchange, Californians can get closer to the core goal of the law: to have confidence that our coverage and care will be there for us when we need it.
For the first half of 2012, here's a few dates to plan around on health issues in California:
1/1/2012: Over 35 counties are launching their Low-Income Health Programs (LIHPs), joining 10 counties already up and running with 225,000 Californians covered. This "bridge to health reform" is bringing new federal dollars into California and our struggling health system, and getting people the care they need, as a ramp-up to 2014 and the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Most of the remaining counties are slated to launch sometime in the first half of 2012.
1/10/2012: On or around this date, Governor Jerry Brown will unveil his proposed 2012-13 California state budget, which will likely include more cuts, on top of those already made (elimination of dental and other benefits, provider rate reductions, etc.) in past years. Part of the budget will be dependent on the passage of revenues through a ballot measure this November. If those revenues don't pass, then Californians can expect even more cuts to health, education, and other vital services they depend on.
2/24/2012: Deadline for legislation to be introduced. It is likely that there will be several bills to implement and improve upon the federal health law. Among the goals of such legislation will be to maxmize enrollment in federally-funded health coverage expansions on the first day of 2014, and to put in place the insurance market reforms and consumer protections, so that in 2014 and beyond, individuals are no longer denied or discriminated against because of their health status.
3/23/2012: This will be the 2nd anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, a time to acknowledge the new options, benefits, and consumer protections that millions of Californians now have as a result of the new federal law. This will also provide the context for oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act, scheduled for March 26-28. Opponents of the law have seen many appeals court judges, including noted conservatives, uphold the law, including the requirement on individuals to get coverage. The work will continue, both at the federal level with new regulations and consumer protections rolling out, and at the state level.
4/20/2012: This is the deadline for signature petitions to be turned in on ballot initiatives, starting the certification process to see what will be on the November 2012 ballot. The ballot is likely to include revenues to prevent further state budget cuts, and may include health-related measures on everything from rate regulation to hospital accountability. And of course, the November election will greatly impact the continued progress on health reform, by the outcome of the Presidential and Congressional races.
5/2012: Legislative action heats up: Bills need to pass the first house of the legislature by the end of May. In addition, the Governor will release his May Revision of the budget, and the Legislature will go into daily hearings and negotiations toward the goal of passing a budget by the late June deadlines.
6/2012: The new California Health Benefits Exchange, our health insurance marketplace of the future, plans this month to submit a major grant application to the federal government to fund its operation through its first year of full operation in 2014. In preparation for this, the Board will be making several foundational decisions on its goals, capacity, infrastructure, and business model for getting Californians covered on day one and beyond.
7/1/2012: While some of the health laws passed in 2011 go into effect on January, like the state enforcement of the medical loss ratio, some notable benefit mandates come into place on July 1. This includes maternity coverage, which will on this date be required to be included in individual and small group policies--reversing a disturbing trend in the last decade that left many pregnant mothers and infants without this crucial, life-changing care. Federal guidance that came out in late 2011 allow states some flexibility in setting "essential health benefits" in 2014 and beyond, so that will be another significant topic for policymakers in 2012.
Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.