Assembly Sends Health Insurance Regulation Bill on to Senate

Assembly Republicans really didn’t want to hear about AB 52 yesterday.

First there was a motion to block the bill to regulate health insurance rate increases because bill language had been amended the day before. The Assembly voted to reject that objection by waiving the one-day waiting period.

Then Assembly member Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) balked at hearing the bill a little earlier in the agenda. “I know we lost the motion to bring this up [in the first place],” he said, “but this is also out of order at this point.”

After the motion to delay hearing the bill was voted down, Hagman asked to convene a Republican caucus instead. That was denied. So Republican leaders asked for a 15-minute recess, and that was voted down, as well.

At that point, the Republican caucus walked out of the chambers.

None of those moves slowed down AB 52, which passed out of the Assembly with a one-sided, Republican-less vote.

Assembly member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), co-author of the bill, said the delays were a tactic to subvert what was expected to be an extremely close vote.

“Many of our colleagues have left the chamber,” he said, “cynically trying to run out the clock, because a member of our caucus has an emergency and needs to leave early.”

Huffman was referring to Amina Carter (D-Rialto), who had to go home to deal with a death in the family.

But that one vote, it turned out, was not the lone decider. The measure needed 41 votes and ended up passing with a final tally of 47-28, once Republicans returned and some fence-sitting Democrats voted. Five Assembly members did not vote.

“We pay a lot of lip service in these chambers to making California a friendly business environment, to creating jobs and helping small businesses,” Huffman said. “This may be the most important bill in the session to address those things.”

Objection came from two Assembly members who had raised similar concerns in last week’s appropriations committee. Assembly ajority leader Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) said the regulation of health insurance companies is important, which is why some regulations already exist in the state — but that this legislation is built on a faulty assumption, he said.

“The false premise is, if you lower rates, you lower the cost of health care,” Calderon said. “That’s just not true.”

Assembly member Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) said this legislation could have a negative effect on rate-setting done by the new state Health Benefit Exchange, and he cited opposition to the bill from the California Medical Association.

“I most trust doctors with health care decisions,” Solorio said, “and doctors oppose the bill.”

Assembly member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), the other co-author of AB 52, said that at its root, this is a bill designed to protect Californians from rapidly rising health insurance premium costs. “Each of us is inundated in our district offices with complaints about health insurance rates rising … I stand with nurses, teachers and folks finally saying, ‘Take a step for us.’ “

Last-minute amendments to the bill were made to address concerns raised in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. The amendments were not big changes: clarifying the terms of judicial review and removing the idea that the commissioner could base decisions in part on “factors deemed necessary,” a move that takes a step toward limiting the scope of power of the Insurance Commissioner.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will need to navigate through the health committee and appropriations, and is expected to be heard on the Senate floor sometime in late June.

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