Craft, Cynthia

Health Access California is a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups. This article has also been published on the Health Access Blog

Once a Year is Enough!

By Cynthia Craft
Health Access

If you can believe it, the health insurance industry's argument Tuesday against restricting rate hikes to once a year was that an incremental sprinkling of increases every few months would help consumers deal with sticker shock.

Of AB 2042, a bill to limit insurance companies to just one premium increase annually, a lobbyist for health plans said: "This only ensures that consumers will receive a bigger rate increase once a year." In his view, multiple "adjustments" in a year's time -- that is, in addition to "the one-time annual global increase in our premiums" -- would serve to soften the blow.

Members of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Bill Monning, weren't buying the upside-down logic. AB 2042 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D) passed out of the committee on Tuesday on a 10-5 vote.

Blue Cross Puts The Squeeze on Doctors

By Cynthia Craft
Health Access
Tuesday's hearing of the Assembly Health Committee gave a glimpse into the ways Anthem Blue Cross not only squeezes consumers, but providers as well.

We've all heard by now that Anthem Blue Cross of California has in its hip pocket a double-digit premium hike to whip out for individual-policy holders come May 1. And that Anthem's parent, WellPoint Inc. of Indianpolis, blessed its CEO, Angela Braly, with a 51% raise in compensation (with some lesser execs getting up to 75% boosts). That was just last Friday.

We can't say we're surprised -- though we are amazed at the utter brazenness of it all.

Assemblyman Dave Jones to insurance industry: "Have You No Shame?"

By Cynthia Craft
California Health Access

We may be getting closer to the tipping point toward rate regulation of health insurance policies -- or so it seemed during Tuesday's Assembly Health Committee hearing on the steep premium hikes planned by Anthem Blue Cross.

Chair Dave Jones (D) led committee members in an informational inquiry into the "astonishing and troubling" plan for Anthem Blue Cross customers to pay up to 39% more (and in some cases, even more than that) for individual health insurance plans in just 60 days' time.

Originally, the corporation had notified customers that their monthly bills would jump in less than 30 days, but Anthem Blue Cross agreed to postpone the hike to allow time for elected representatives to question executives. The company still intends to impose the increases.

Breast Cancer Screening: A checks-and-balances kind of thing

By Cynthia Croft
California Health Access

Assembly Budget Committee Chair Noreen Evans (D) and others assailed the administration Monday for making cuts to a breast cancer screening program for low-income women against the Legislature’s wishes.

The Department of Public Health in December decided to reduce access to the “Every Woman Counts” early detection program by freezing enrollment until June 2010, and limiting enrollment to only women 50 and older.

For the past decade, the program had offered annual breast cancer screening to low-income women who lacked health insurance and were at least 40 years old. Statewide, 1.2 million are eligible for the program through about 1,000 locations, including community health clinics. The program served 249,000 in fiscal year 2006-2007; 270,000 in fiscal year 2007-2008 and then 310,000 in 2008-2009.

Do California Leaders Need To Stay After School?

By Cynthia Craft
Health Access

California’s performance ranking in five key areas, including health care, dropped a grade on the annual report card issued by Children Now, leaving the Golden State with its most tarnished marks in the 20-year history of the advocacy group’s rating system.

Due mainly to brutal cuts in the state’s FY09-10 budget by the Legislature and the governor in children’s programs, California “earned the worst grades ever” for 2009, said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. Lempert, a former state legislator, summed up the state’s dire performance during a legislative briefing held in the Capitol on Monday afternoon for staff members of the Legislature.

Senate Health Hears Medi-Cal Waiver Ideas...

By Cynthia Craft
Health Access

The Senate Health Committee, chaired by Sen. Elaine Alquist, met last week to hear panels of experts share ideas for how the state’s Medi-Cal program could be restructured through the development of a Medicaid waiver.

The waiver that California hopes to obtain from the federal government next year would allow the state to stretch the boundaries of Medicaid’s current rules. Administration officials, including David Maxwell-Jolly, Director of the CA Department of Health Care Services, argued that the proposed changes would help the state’s Medi-Cal program save money and improve coverage for California’s most vulnerable citizens.

The focus of their talk, and a concept paper that was released a few weeks ago, was finding savings and in organizing and coordinating care of patients, especially those with chronic conditions.

The Suspense Is Over For Health Care Bills in California

Craft.jpgby Cynthia Craft
Health Access California

This report, prepared as the last week for fiscal committees to take action is winding up, is by Health Access advocate Beth Capell:

Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee took action on numerous important health measures; some of the news is good, some of it is bad.

In a very difficult state budget year in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, it is not surprising that Appropriations members would be cautious about letting out measures that increase cost. Still the bad news is never pleasant.

Good news: bills that passed....

Tough Times : 63,000 Kids Wishing, Waiting For Health Care

Craft.jpgby Cynthia Craft
Health Access California

Continuing its trajectory of growth, the waiting list for Healthy Families has reached 62,955 California children whose families are seeking affordable health care coverage for their kids.

The list has grown by about 3,000 children per work day since the state’s Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board started taking names instead of enrollees July 17 because of state budget cuts.

The new tally was announced Thursday at a MRMIB meeting, one of a series held to consider cost-cutting options for its insurance programs of last resort for low-income, working Californians unable to afford health care coverage on the open market.

Mixed News For Health Families Program

Craft.jpgby Cynthia Craft
Health Access California

The good news for the Healthy Families program on Thursday was an $81.4 million commitment from the First Five Commission to keep 200,000 children ages 0-5 enrolled in the program for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The bad news? Despite at first seeming to want to delay the decision, the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, or MRMIB, voted to begin kicking kids off the health care program this fall.

On advice of staff, MRMIB declared that insufficient funding forced the board to prepare to disenroll children from Healthy Families beginning October 1.

Same Governor, Different Goals

arnold_june_2009.jpgBy Cynthia Craft
Health Access California

As July 1st hits, a budget fix for California is apparently nowhere in sight. So how is this year different from years past?

Besides the alarming $24 billion hole in California's budget, we seem to have a different Governor. As recently as 2007-08, Gov. Schwarzenegger was actively advocating for health reform. Now he proposes to endanger the intergrity of the very programs on which health reform would be built.