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High-Risk Success Riding on Twin Bills

Last week the Assembly passed AB 1887 by Mike Villines (R-Clovis) and the Senate passed SB 227 by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara). The two-bill package would establish a temporary high-risk insurance pool to meet federal guidelines for national health care reform.

The legislation is now being considered in the appropriations committees in  each house. The bills are procedurally joined, which means one can’t become law without the other. At stake is $761 million in federal funding, which is one reason the proposed laws have urgency status.

But urgency status has one big drawback — that means both bills need a two-thirds vote to become law.

Lesley Cummings, executive director of the state’s Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, explained how the two bills are linked. “One provides the funding structure, the other provides responsibilities for MRMIB,” she said. Cummings recently testified at an Assembly hearing on AB 1887. She was representing the Schwarzenegger administration, which is a good sign for the passage and adoption of the two bills.

The temporary high-risk insurance pool is designed to cover patients with a pre-existing condition who have been rejected for coverage by a private health plan. It would insure about 30,000 high-risk Californians for the next four years.

California has run its own high-risk insurance pool for the past 20 years, administered by MRMIB, but with less than a fourth of the scope of the national effort, Cummings said. “I have about 7,100 slots for MRMIB right now,” she said. “As people go out, we fill their slots. I don’t know what the demand will be. But we are better positioned to control costs in such a way that (no one) will be on a waiting list.”

Villines said California’s experience running MRMIB will put the state in a trend-setter position, that other states will look to see how California does it. “We have a chance to fix that with a program that works,” Villines said.

That is, if it passes the state Legislature.

But the Senate and Assembly have 761 million reasons to pass these bills, and Villines said we’re about to see a historic moment in California.

“We have a chance to pass what I consider to be the shining star of health care reform,” Villines said.

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