Senate and Assembly Health Committee Hearings Week of April 17: Several Key Health Consumer Bills Move Forward

Yesterday, the California Senate Health Committee convened to hear several bills, including three of prime importance to health care advocates.

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SB 4 (Lara) on Health4All, would extend Medi-Cal to the remaining undocumented uninsured under 138% of the federal poverty level for adults (annual income of $27,724 based on a family of 3) and 261% FPL for kids ($52,345 for a family of 3) and allow Californians otherwise excluded because of immigration status to buy coverage through Covered California—but using their own money. This bill passed out of committee with a vote of 7-0. Beatriz Sanchez provided an emotional testimony that brought many in the room to tears as she talked about her mother’s death from diabetes and how she could have been helped by SB 4(Lara). Community activist and Registered Nurse Akiko Aspillaga shared how she grew up without access to health care and watched her mother self-medicate by drinking Tylenol whenever she was sick.  Her mother’s refusal to seek medical treatment at the nearest emergency room for more serious health issues was based on fear of debt. Akiko Aspillaga closed by urging the committee to set an example for the nation by passing SB4 (#Health4All).

As part of his testimony Gabriel Aguilar shared that six years ago he was diagnosed with diabetes, and 1.5 years ago he received notice about a potentially cancerous tumor.  With tears in his eyes and in his translator’s as well, Mr. Aguilar added that he has yet to get treatment for his condition.

After providing supporting comments, Senator Hernández and Senator Wolk asked to be added on as co-authors. Senator Hernández noted that it was extremely rare for him to add on as a co-author on any bill, a testament to Senator Lara’s work on the bill.  Health Access, California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), United Way, Consumers Union, California Medical Association, and a slew of partner organizations also testified in support. No one testified in opposition.

SB 24 (Hill), on e-cigarettes: Health Access opposed this bill on the basis that it would treat e-cigarettes somewhat differently than other tobacco products–despite evidence that e-cigarettes have much the same negative effect. This bill nonetheless passed out of committee with a vote of 7-0.  Health Access, along with many others, testified in opposition, unless the author amended the bill to treat e-cigarettes in the same manner as other tobacco products. Some Senators shared concerns with the definition of tobacco in the bill, but stated they would support the bill moving forward at this point, seeing what further negotiations might yield.

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SB 137 (Hernandez) on provider directories, which is sponsored by Health Access, Consumers Union and CPEHN, would set standards for provider directories and establish more oversight on accuracy so people know whether their doctor and hospital are in network when they shop for coverage, change coverage, or try to use their coverage to get care. This bill passed out with a vote of 8-0. Several organizations, including CPEHN, Health Underwriters Association, CSEA, American Cancer Society and the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center, echoed their support.

On Tuesday, April 14th, the Assembly Health Committee heard AB 366 (Bonta) on Medi-Cal Provider Reimbursement Rates which would restore Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates from the previous budget cut in the first year, and bring Medi-Cal rates up to Medicare levels in future year. This bill passed out of committee with a vote of 16-0.  The Assembly Health Committee also heard AB 635 (Atkins) on Medi-Cal Interpretation Services. This would require the Department of Health Care Services to seek federal funding to establish a program to provide and reimburse for certified medical interpretation services (except sign language interpretation services) to Medi-Cal beneficiaries who are limited English proficient. This bill got out of committee with a vote of 16-0.

More to Come…

  • Remember to check out our Health Bill Matrix for regular updates on bills sponsored or supported (or opposed) by Health Access.
  • Also check out our Health Action Calendar to follow what’s happening when at the State Capitol–and how you can help support legislation and appropriations to benefit California’s health care consumers.
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