The key bills in this week’s legislative battle…

This week, California legislators will decide whether to institute new patient protections, to provide consumers with greater access and affordability for coverage, and to implement and improve the new federal health law. Victoria Colliver at the San Francisco Chronicle reports on some of the bills heading to a final deadline.

Here are key bills that are crucial for health care consumers, yet are opposed by Anthem Blue Cross and other insurers.

* CREATING A NEW CONSUMER-FRIENDLY EXCHANGE WITH BARGAINING POWER: AB 1602 (Perez) and SB 900 (Alquist/Steinberg) are companion bills, up in the Senate today or tomorrow, that will establish a new health insurance Exchange as required by the federal health reform law. In 2014, the new Exchange will be the new one-stop shop for getting health coverage for individuals and small businesses, both providing easy-to-compare choices, access to federally-funded subsidies to make coverage affordable, and the bulk purchasing power (similar to large employers or CALPERS) of millions of Californians to bargain for the best price and value.

The exchange is the heart of health reform. The Courage Campaign has a petition, with insurance whistleblower Wendell Potter to the CEO of Anthem Blue Cross of California, calling on them to stop their opposition to the implementation of health reform in California:
http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/StopAnthem

HCAN-California is calling on people to call their State Senators directly, given that the vote will be in the next day or two. You can find out who your State Senator here. You can report your call, and how your State Senator responded, at the HCAN-CA website.

* TRANSITIONING TO A MORE TRANSPARENT AND COMPARATIVE MARKET: SB 890 (Alquist) would reform the individual insurance market, by setting basic benefit levels and categorizing health plans to allow consumers to compare plans based on the actuarial value, so that they can have some idea of how much of their medical costs they may need to pay out of pocket.

* REGULATING AND APPROVING HEALTH INSURANCE RATES: AB 2578 (Jones) would require approval by the Department of Managed Health Care or the Department of Insurance of an increase in the amount of premium, co-payment, coinsurance, deductible, or other charges under a health plan.

* MAKING RATES TRANSPARENT AND ACTURIALLY SOUND: SB 1163 (Leno) would require insurers to provide information about premium increases and insurer rate filings to be reviewed by the state and released to the public. The bill would also require insurers to notify consumers in writing of denials or rate increases, these notifications must include clear justifications and rate increase notifications must be sent at least 60 days prior to the change taking effect.

* LIMITING SURCHARGES FOR CHILDREN WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: AB 2244 (Feuer) implements the federal prohibition on denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and limits the amount that insurers can charge to cover those children.

Other Bills on the Assembly Floor
* SB 56 (Alquist) would authorize county-organized health plans and other health benefits programs to form joint ventures in order to create integrated networks of public health plans that pool risk and share networks. This will provide better public health insurance options for consumers.
* SB 208 (Steinberg) and AB342(Perez) renews California’s Medi-Cal financing waiver, drawing down up to $10 billion in federal funding. This would allow the state to begin phasing in expansions of public programs to build the bridge to full health reform implementation.
* SB 1088 (Price) would implement federal requirements that employers extend dependent coverage to dependents up to age 26.
* SB 810 (Leno) establishes the authority (but not financing) for a state administered Single Payer health care system.

Other Bills on the Senate Floor
* AB 1825 (De La Torre) requires all health insurance plans to cover maternity care.
* AB 2345 (De La Torre) requires insurers to eliminate cost-sharing for some preventive services such as pap smears, mammograms, other cancer screenings, and immunizations; continues to permit co-pays and deductibles for managing asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
* AB 2470 (De La Torre) would eliminate rescissions by establishing standard information and health history questions used by health insurers on application forms, and requires insurers to complete medical underwriting and review for accuracy before issuing an individual a health plan contract or policy.

The next week will be crucial in determining the extent of our ability to implement and improve upon health reform, to make reform real here California. Many of these bills continue to face strong opposition from the insurance industry and other lobbyists. Health and consumer advocates will be mobilizing this week to move all these bills through.

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