Today was the last opportunity for health bills to move forward this year. The remaining Assembly bills on our agenda had to clear the Senate Health Committee before moving on to Appropriations or other committees, and then to the Senate floor.
The highly anticipated vote on Assemblymember Feuer’s AB52 on Rate Regulation did not come without drama. Because the committee held an extensive hearing on the bill last week, the bill was intended for vote only. Though no stakeholders were allowed to testify, a number of committee members did take the opportunity to speak.
Senator Strickland read an extensive statement opposing the bill, reiterating a wide range of the arguments made by industry opponents last week. Specifically, he stated that among the bills “flaws” is that it does not address and fix all of the problems in the health care system, Senator Blakeslee echoed this statement. (We look forward to Senators Strickland and Blakeslee co-authoring a comprehensive bill that will reverse all underlying cost drivers and fix the health care system for good.) Strickland also misreported a number of the points made in last week’s hearing, including contending that an unsubstantiated projected cost of $30 million in intervener fees could balloon to $300 million.
Senator Hernandez reported that he has been working diligently with Assemblyman Feuer on a number of amendments, and anticipates voting for the bill on the Senate floor if the amendments are accepted. His concerns are in five major areas:
- Depoliticizing the implementation, or creating an appeals process
- Clearly define the implementation processes, including the objective measures for reasonable rate increases
- Address issues related to the large group market
- Establish clear criteria for intervener funds
- Insert additional transparency measures to address underlying cost drivers
Senator Rubio abstained from voting, stating that he would await the final amendments before deciding how he would vote. AB52 was the last bill that the Committee voted on. The final committee vote count was:
AYES: Hernandez, Alquist, DeLeon, DeSaulnier, Wolk
NOES: Strickland, Anderson, Blakeslee
The bill’s passage is lauded as an important measure to protect California by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones who issued this press release this afternoon, as well as Senator Diane Feinstein, who issued a press release stating “The passage of this bill by the Senate Health Committee is a major step forward to protect consumers from egregious health insurance rate hikes. I hope the entire Senate follows suit by passing this bill and urge Governor Brown to sign it.”
Undoubtedly, it will require an additional effort from our consumer advocacy community to ensure that AB52 now passes Senate Appropriations Committee and then the Senate floor.
OTHER BILLS MOVING FORWARD
STREAMLINING ELIGIBILITY AND ENROLLMENT: Assemblymember Bonilla’s AB1296, which would create a consumer friendly “no wrong door” approach to eligibility, enrollment, and retention in public programs was also heard in committee. The bill would use federal dollars to meet the requirement (per the Affordable Care Act) that the state create one application for all programs and streamline front end customer service so that individuals do not have to be responsible for figuring out the complexities of which program they are eligible at any given time and how to transition to other programs when their circumstances change. This bill moves forward on a party line vote.
HEALTHY FOOD: Another bill that survived contentious debate and passed out of Senate Health was Assemblymember Mitchell’s AB727 which would require that vending machines in state buildings offer at least 50% healthier options.
Clearly the road ahead for implementing Health Care reform in California will be a challenging one, but for now, a moment to take a deep breath.