Health Care-Related Bills Taking Effect, Others Introduced
A state law beginning on Jan. 1 bars a hospital from billing some uninsured or underinsured patients rates above those charged to Medicare, workers' compensation or other government programs in which the hospital participates, the Sacramento Bee reports. The law (AB 774) by former Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) applies to California residents whose annual incomes do not exceed 350% of the federal poverty level.
Under the law, hospitals are barred from using some bill collection practices, such as garnishing wages or putting liens on property. The law also mandates that hospitals post signs and otherwise notify patients of options to pay hospital bills, including:
- Payment plans;
- Public insurance programs; and
- Charity care.
About five million uninsured and underinsured California residents also could be eligible for discounts on prescription drugs under a new state program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
A law by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) directs the Department of Health Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical firms for discounts on medications. DHS could restrict access through Medi-Cal for treatments manufactured by companies that do not offer discounts consistent with the new program's requirements.
Other health care-related legislation taking effect Jan. 1 includes:
- A measure by Assembly member Bill Emmerson (R-Rancho Cucamonga) that requires public school students to undergo a dental examination before entering kindergarten or first grade;
- Legislation by Senate President Pro Tempore (D-Oakland) that will establish a voluntary biomonitoring program for state residents to investigate possible cancer clusters and incidences of other diseases (Yi, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/29/06); and
- AB 2068, which permits a medical group, rather than a single physician, to be designated as a "personal physician" for workers' compensation treatment (Dunai, Contra Costa Times, 12/29/06).
After convening the 2007-2008 legislative session, state lawmakers introduced 132 bills, including 24 addressing health care issues. The measures include:
AB 12, which would help provide health insurance coverage to employees of small businesses;
AB 16, which would require girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated for human papillomavirus;
AB 20, which would limit out-of-pocket health care costs for some state residents;
AB 30, which would seek to reduce administrative expenses as part of an effort to reduce health care costs;
AB 66, which would require all prison inmates to be tested for HIV upon entry and discharge from the state prison system;
SB 24, which would increase the state tobacco tax by $1.90 per pack of cigarettes beginning in 2008; and
- SB 32, which would provide health insurance coverage to all children in households with incomes that do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level (Harmon, MediaNews/San Jose Mercury News, 12/27/06).