LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: Chaos, Computer Glitch Doom Healthy Families Measure
A computer crash, coupled with the last minute chaos of the Legislature's closing session, are being blamed for lawmakers' failure to pass a bill that would have allocated $128 million from the state's tobacco settlement to expand Healthy Families to more than 600,000 low-income working parents, the Los Angeles Times reports. Part of a three-bill package, the funding measure died at midnight Thursday before the Senate could schedule a vote (Bustillo/Ingram, 9/2). Sponsored by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Commerce), the bill, SB 673, was aimed at reducing the estimated 7.5 million Californians who lack health coverage. Two companion bills that "set in motion California's waiver application" to expand the program to adults, AB 2900 and AB 1015, both sponsored by Assembly member Martin Gallegos (D-El Monte), passed the Legislature (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 9/2). Those measures would expand Healthy Families to parents whose incomes are up to 250% of the poverty level, equivalent to a family of four with an annual income of $43,000. Currently, the federal-state funded program is open only to children (Marquis, Los Angeles Times, 9/4). Approved by the Assembly Wednesday night, Escutia's bill failed to reach the Senate for a vote due to an apparent glitch in the computer system that prevented transmission between chambers (Sacramento Bee, 9/2). As a result, the Legislature essentially gave its approval to the program expansion but failed to fund such expansion. Despite the demise of the Escutia bill, Gallegos remained optimistic that the program would be expanded. He noted that the measures would provide coverage to nearly 10% of the state's 5.5 million uninsured adults. Gov. Gray Davis (D) has not indicated whether he will sign the two measures that did pass (Los Angeles Times, 9/4). The governor has until Sept. 30 to sign the legislation (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 9/1). Even if the program is expanded, the state still stands to lose $300 million in federal funds for failing to enroll more children in Healthy Families. If Davis vetoes the legislation and the program is not expanded, the state will lose a total of $590 million (Los Angeles Times, 9/4).
Other Legislative News
The Legislature was a flurry of activity last week, addressing hundreds of bills before the end of the session. Some of the measures addressed include:
- AB 1455 and SB 1177: The two measures would raise penalties for HMOs that fail to reimburse physicians and hospitals on time. The bills, AB 1455 sponsored by Assembly member Jack Scott (D-Altadena) and SB 1177 sponsored Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland), authorize the Department of Managed Care to investigate HMOs "accused of chronically paying claims late." Perata's bill passed the Assembly by a 42-11 margin while the Senate unanimously approved the measure 40-0. Scott's measure sailed through both chambers, passing 64-1 in the Assembly and 34-0 in the Senate (Coleman, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1).
- SB 996: Legislators also sent Davis a bill that would increase payments made by the workers' compensation program. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Johnson (D-Stockton), SB 996 would increase weekly temporary disability payments from $490 to $651 over three years (Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/3). While the bill passed 24-14 in the Senate and 41-28 in the Assembly, it faces a likely veto from Davis, who vetoed a similar measure last year (Howard, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1).
- SB 953: In the wake of the Quackenbush scandal, lawmakers failed to limit the amount insurers could contribute to candidates running for the position of insurance commissioner. SB 953, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), would have limited contributions from insurers to $250 for one year before and six months following "pending regulatory action." The Assembly voted 34-27 against the measure (Tempest, Los Angeles Times, 8/30).
- SB 1805: Also addressing the Quackenbush situation, the Legislature passed a measure that would require the state Department of Insurance to post insurance company performance studies on its Web site for consumers. The bill was sponsored by Escutia (Tempest, Los Angeles Times, 9/2).
Giving the Okay
While the Legislature scrambled to send bills to Davis, the governor's signing pen was busy last week. Some of the measures approved by Davis include:
- AB 2571: Sponsored by Assembly member Bill Campbell (R-Villa Park), the measure provides an exemption from the disciplinary statute of limitations when doctors intentionally conceal their incompetence, gross negligence or repeated negligent acts (Office of the Governor release, 8/31).
- AB 1053: Sponsored by Assembly member Helen Thomson (D-Davis), the measure retroactively lifts the $500,000 annual cap for the fiscal years 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 on the Traumatic Brain Injury Project, adding an additional $1.1 million to be spent by the Department of Mental Health.
- AB 2038: Sponsored by Assembly member Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), the measure establishes the "Inclusion of Women and Minorities in Clinical Research Act," which requires state-funded clinical trials to include women and minorities where appropriate.
- AB 2423: Sponsored by Assembly member Marco Firebaugh (D-E. Los Angeles), the measure provides exemptions for specified subsidiary and parent companies of a licensed clinical laboratory, health facility or health care professional from certain billing prohibitions (Office of the Governor release, 8/28).