Maternity, mental health parity, and consumer assistance bills clear Assembly committee…

The Assembly Health Committee of the California considered a number of important health consumer bills this afternoon.

AB154 by Assemblymember Jim Beall is the author’s 5th attempt to pass an updated mental health parity bill, the requirement that health plans cover mental health and substance abuse treatment. Assemblymember Beall framed the issue as one of discrimination against those who suffer from conditions that are mental rather than physical as well as an attempt to address the historic practice of private insurers shifting the cost of mental health and substance abuse treatment to local governments, who pick up the tab for these services when individuals are treated through public programs or when they end up in Emergency Rooms or jails. The quote of the day came from Assemblymember Mike Eng who in supporting the bill applauded the author’s persistence and dedication and said, “Advocates in my district are very appreciative of such a big man standing up for what is perceived as the little guy.” The bill passed out of Committee and moves on to Assembly Appropriations.

AB922 by Assembly Member Bill Monning would create a California Office of Health Consumer Assistance as a centralized hub for providing information, assistance, referrals, and address grievances for 35 million California health care consumers. The current system is fragmented and provides an inconsistent level of assistance to consumers who need help navigating or accessing insurance. The bill, sponsored by Health Access California and the Western Center for Law and Poverty would also allow for contracting with Community Based Organizations in order to provide consumer assistance in accessible settings and in culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. AB 922 also passed out of committee.

AB185 by Assemblymember Roger Hernandez would require plans in the individual market to cover maternity care. Even though there is no Californian alive who has not experienced the need for maternity care through their own birth, many insurers still view this benefit as increasingly optional. Proponents cited data showing that 6 years ago, 82% of policies offered in the individual market included maternity coverage, 1 year ago that had dropped to just 19% and, this year that percentage has dropped to 12%. Kaiser and Blue Shield broke with their industry colleagues in support of the bill (as they have with previous versions of the bill). AB185 was also voted out of committee.

One bill that wasn’t heard today, but will be at a later hearing, was AB52 (Feuer), which would require prior approval for insurance rate increases through the applicable regulatory agencies. Since the bill has been postponed, this gives us more time for much needed advocacy. Insurance rate increases are impacting Californians every day, as many families struggle to stay covered as they are hit by double digit increases several times a year. Rate regulation is an important way in which to protect California health care consumers from unreasonable and unjustified rate increases. Letters of support can be sent to the Assembly Health Committee via fax at (916) 319-2197. Phone calls to members of the committee are also needed!

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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