Rate Regulation And Other Key Health Reform Bills Head to Final Floor Votes
By Anthony Wright
Important California legislation to improve our health system for the future and implement the new federal health law are headed to final floor votes, after passing key Appropriations Committees in both the Assembly and Senate.
The California Senate passed high-profile, heavily-debated bills like AB52(Feuer), on rate regulation, so consumers are protected from unjustified rate hikes. Other bills that advanced included crucial consumer protections for Californians, from a reorganization and expansion of consumer assistance for California patients, to the streamlining of eligibility and enrollment systems so that Californians get the coverage they want and need. Another bill would limit the amount of our premium dollar that goes to administration and profit, rather than patient care.
All these bills now head to final floor votes. Legislation must pass out of the full Legislature in the next two weeks, by the final deadline of September 9th. Governor Brown would then have until October 9th to sign or veto those measures that do pass.
RATE REGULATION: Perhaps the most high-profile and lobbied bill in the legislature this year, AB52 would give state regulators, the Department of Insurance and the Department of Managed Health Care, the authority to reject unjustified rate increases. Strongly supported by consumer, labor, and community groups but oppose by insurers and other parts of the health industry, the bill now heads to the Senate floor. Assemblyman Feuer is currently negotiating amendments to attract support from enough Senators.
HELPING CONSUMERS: Also making it out of the Senate Appropriations committee was AB1296 (Bonilla) which would streamline eligibility and enrollment processes to create a seamless, "No Wrong Door" consumer experience for individuals seeking health coverage, whether from Medi-Cal or the new Exchange. AB922 (Monning) will better equip the Office of the Patient Advocate to better serve the millions of new health insurance consumers, to better answer questions and complaints, leading up to the full implementation of the federal health reform law.
CONSUMER PROTECTIONS: The Assembly Appropriations Committee moved two important bills by Senator Alquist forward to the Assembly floor. SB51 will implement the Medical Loss Ratio requirements in California and gives the state enforcement authority. The Medical Loss Ratio requires insurers to spend 85% of premium dollars on the delivery of health care in the large group market, and 80% of premium dollars in the individual and small group markets. This measure protects consumers and the value and confidence in products, ensuing that premium dollars go to patient care, not administration and profit.
SB222 would allow local health plans and initiatives to form joint ventures to create networks for local public health insurance options, a component of the Affordable Care Act that did not survive the politics of the federal debate.
TWO-YEAR BILLS: Some bills did not move forward, including SB703 (Hernandez) to set up a Basic Health Plan. Other two-year measures include AB714 (Atkins) and AB792 (Bonilla), two Health Access-sponsored bills that would notify and pre-enroll eligible individuals into new coverage available in 2014. AB727 (Mitchell) on healthy food purchasing was also stalled in committee. These are being held as two year bills that can be taken up again next year.
The Committee heard a lengthy presentation by Senate Pro Tem Steinberg on SB770, a benefit mandate bill that would require insurers to cover services related to autism, but the Committee took no action to move the bill forward this year. Assembly Appropriations also chose not to move SB155, Senator Evans' maternity care mandate bill forward even though the Senator worked to gain industry support for the bill. SB155 stalled, despite having no opposition. (The Ventura County Star had a good write-up on the need and urgency of the bill today.)
FINAL FLOOR VOTES: The bills that moved forward today represent one more step toward implementing and improving federal health reform law at home in California. Some bills, which did not have fiscal implications, were already on the floor, like AB1083 (Monning), to adopt many of the federal reforms with regard to small group insurance. Though all these bills have cleared several hurdles to reach this point, they still must face floor votes in the next two weeks. They must pass both houses before they can move on to the Governor's desk for consideration.
Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups. This article originally appeared on the Health Access blog.