HEALTH CARE REFORM: Stayin’ Alive with Davis?
Today's Los Angeles Times reports that with Gov. Gray Davis declaring that his first, second and third priorities are education, many health care reform advocates are wondering what the future holds. "[M]any of us are wondering, 'Is health care again on the back burner?'" said Arnoldo Torres, executive director of the California Hispanic Health Care Association. State HHS Secretary Grantland Johnson said, however, that Davis' focus on education goes hand in hand with health care. "If a child is not healthy or is chronically ill, it's much more difficult for him to succeed," said Johnson, adding that the governor has "a firm commitment to expand the accessibility of coverage to [children] and their family members." Causing even more concern to reform advocates were Davis' comments on HMO reform last week in Washington, DC, that came across as "contradictory, or at least confusing." In suggesting that HMOs be given the chance to self-reform before the government steps in, Davis spokesperson Michael Bustamante explained that Davis was implying that the government should not have to "embarrass" HMOs into proper behavior.
Taking a Stand?
Some lobbyists and legislators are optimistic that Davis will act on health reform issues such as HMO oversight, malpractice caps, mental health parity and HIV reporting. Supporters of Davis are also quick to point to the governor's "speedy and decisive action" on family planning and prenatal care for illegal immigrants, and his push to expand the Healthy Families program. California Association of Health Plans head Walter Zelman said he likes Davis' "thoughtful" approach to managed care reform and state Assembly Health Committee Chair Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) said he was encouraged by Davis' instruction to Johnson and Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Maria Contreras-Sweet to meet with Gallegos' committee and "come up with recommendations on HMO reform by early this month." Committee Vice Chair Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) said the "environment is ripe" for making headway on HMO reform and that the tensions that characterized the last legislative session appear to have eased. According to the Times, Baugh said Republicans might be agreeable to Davis' position on external reviews and HMO liability, "provided consumers first take complaints through an independent review before filing suit." Zelman "drew the line" at consumers' right to sue, saying external review would be adequate. Although Davis has not spoken definitively about HIV tracking, the malpractice cap or mental health parity since his campaign, the Times reports these issues are "likely to command the governor's attention." The governor has intimated that he might be open to adjusting the $250,000 cap on malpractice awards and that he would "like to" see mental health parity but that he would "have to keep in mind overall economic impacts." Speaking for the administration, Johnson broached the HIV tracking debate, saying "we are very much aware of concerns about confidentiality" (Marquis/Lesher, 3/1).