CMS officials this week announced that average Medicare prescription drug plan premiums for 2007 are expected to be the same as the average monthly premium for this year, and CMS representatives in San Francisco said monthly premiums in California likely would be even lower than the national average because of greater competition in the state. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said some companies will modify the coverage they plan to offer, such as plans that include coverage for the so-called "doughnut hole" coverage gap. With an eye toward consumers choosing prescription drug plans, AB 2170 by Assembly member Wilma Chan would require the Office of the Patient Advocate to include information on the quality of care and access provided by Medicare drug plans and stand-alone plans under the Medicare drug benefit. According to a Senate analysis of the measure, "sponsors state that while much drug plan information is provided consumers, no comparison of the actual services is readily available." The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill and sent it to the Senate floor. The last day to amend bills on the floor is Aug. 25 for the legislative session that ends Aug. 31.
Legislators also are considering bills to improve quality at nursing homes, after a Consumer Reports survey recently found that poor care persists at nursing homes despite a federal law enacted nearly 20 years ago to address deficiencies. SB 1248 by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) would require skilled nursing and intermediate care facilities to maintain written policies and procedures for ensuring residents' rights are protected, regardless of their insurance or payment status. The bill is on its third reading in the Assembly. A separate measure (AB 107) by Assembly member John Benoit (R-Riverside) would require the Department of Social Services to inspect residential care facilities for the elderly at least once every two years by 2010. Current law requires inspections once every five years.
Earlier this week, lawmakers began looking to next year's legislative session. Members of the Assembly Health Committee said they are considering legislation that would impose stricter laws on organ transplant programs after three programs closed within the past year and another was criticized for high death rates.
This Legislative Update also includes information on:
- A bill that would require hospitals to submit to the Department of Health Services their policies regarding discounted or charity care;
- Legislation to require employers to provide workers with information about state-sponsored health insurance programs; and
- Measures that would create a prescription drug discount program.