Passage of Proposed Legislation To Require Health Care Coverage Questioned
Legislation by Assembly members Joe Nation (D-San Rafael) and Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills) that would require California residents to maintain health care coverage is "considered a long shot for passage," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Nation and Richman plan to introduce the legislation this week (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17).
The legislation would:
- Require individuals to maintain at least catastrophic coverage with an annual deductible of no more than $5,000;
- Establish purchasing pools organized by county or region to help individuals and small employers buy health insurance at lower rates;
- Provide government subsidies for state residents whose annual incomes do not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level;
- Cap the amount of health care expenses that companies could deduct from their state income taxes;
- Enroll all low-income residents who qualify for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families;
- Implement a gross premium tax on health insurance companies and health plans;
- Withhold money from residents' state income tax if they do not provide evidence that they are insured;
- Require hospitals, health insurers and health plans to implement electronic medical records systems by 2010 and doctors to implement such systems by 2012; and
- Allow Medi-Cal to dispense only generic drugs unless there is evidence showing that a brand-name drug is medically necessary.
Nation and Richman estimated the package of bills initially would cost $1 billion to $2 billion but would reduce costs in the long term (California Healthline, 2/11).
Nation said affordability is a key issue facing the uninsured. He added, "We believe a basic level of health care is a right, but we also believe it's a responsibility of individuals to take care of themselves and not be in a position where they require society to pay for the cost of their emergency room visit."
Bill Wehrle, acting president of the California Association of Health Plans, said that he opposed the proposed gross-premium tax for health plans but added, "If nothing else, this proposal keeps a conversation going about reform that needs to happen."
Neva Kaye, program director for the National Academy for State Health Policy in Maine, said that the legislation is the first serious attempt to mandate coverage on an individual level. "If it became a serious effort, it would get quite a bit of attention as a way of addressing the problem," she added (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17).