Legislature OKs Health Insurance Bills; Governor’s Action Unclear
Over the weekend, the Legislature passed several bills aimed at providing consumers protection against certain health insurer practices, but industry experts say the proposed changes still fall short of comprehensive health reform, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The approved measures include:
- SB 981, by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), which would prohibit health care providers from charging emergency department patients the difference between the amount charged by doctors and the amount paid by insurers;
- SB 1440, by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), which would require that insurers spend at least 85% of premiums received on patient care;
- AB 1945, by Assembly member Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), which would require insurers to prove members intentionally lied on their application before rescinding policies;
- A bill, by Kuehl, to implement a single-payer health insurance system (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4);
- Legislation mandating that insurance policies include maternity benefits, expanded mental illness coverage and coverage of orthodontic cleft palate treatment and medical equipment such as wheelchairs;
- Legislation to establish a new state office to protect patient privacy; and
- A requirement that hospitals publicize rates of drug-resistant infections (Rau, Los Angeles Times, 9/4).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bills. However, he has said he will not sign any bills until the Legislature passes a budget, which is currently two months overdue.
While some of the bills' provisions are similar to Schwarzenegger's attempted overhaul of the state health insurance system earlier this year, none of the measures are guaranteed approval by the governor, the Chronicle reports.
Daniel Zingale, senior adviser to the governor, said the Legislature did not make changes favored by Schwarzenegger and altered bills in ways that might make him less likely to approve them.
According to Zingale, Schwarzenegger supports a ban on the practice of balanced billing -- addressed by the Perata bill -- but disagrees with the minimum physician payment rate provision included in the bill.
Legislation mandating that insurers spend 85% of premium revenue on patient care was part of Schwarzenegger's health care reform proposal, but he might veto the measure because it does not include other provisions of his health care reform proposal.
"The governor has said in the past he didn't want to do this in piecemeal fashion," Zingale said.
In addition, Schwarzenegger likely will veto Kuehl's single-payer bill, as well as bills that would require health plans to provide maternity benefits and expand their coverage of mental illnesses (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4).
Senate President Pro Tem-elect Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said, "We're going to need to make health care a bigger priority next year, because we obviously didn't come close to completing the work" (Los Angeles Times, 9/4).