Five Bills Pass Health Committee

The state Senate Committee on Health yesterday approved two bills designed to help alleviate California’s shortage of physicians and nurses in underserved parts of the state.

The committee also approved three other bills.

The provider bills, SB 20 and SB 271 both authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), sailed through the health committee on 9-0 votes.

SB 20 directs funds from the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board to help forgive physician education loans for those providers practicing in underserved area for three years,” Hernandez said. MRMIB is being phased out, freeing up one of its funding sources — fines and penalties levied on health insurers.

To address the decade-long nursing shortage, particularly in underserved areas, SB 271 is based on a pilot program established in 2003 and expiring this year, he said.

“This is a good first step,” said Stephanie Roberson, legislative advocate for the California Nursing Association. “With the Affordable Care Act coming, there will be a lot of lives that will need health care.”

The nursing program pays off a portion of student loans for nursing students who commit to working in medically underserved areas. The program will be paid for through the Registered Nurse Education Fund, which comes from a $10 surcharge on nursing licenses, Hernandez said.

Both bills now move to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The Senate Committee on Health hearing also approved three other bills:

• SB 224 by Sen. Mimi Walters (D-Irvine) would require the Department of Public Health to screen newborns with genetic testing for two lysosomal storage diseases — Hurler syndrome and Krabbe disease. That bill now heads to Appropriations.

• SB 402 by Sen. Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) requires hospitals to meet standards for breastfeeding set by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The California Hospital Association opposed it as an unfunded mandate, but it passed on a 7-2 vote. “We don’t view it as a mandate,” De León said, “it’s an equivalent requirement.”

• SB 138 by Sen. Hernandez ensures confidentiality of medical information for spouses or children who don’t want their care details shared with family members. Right now, Hernandez said, “it is an undue burden to opt in to confidentiality measures. There are protections at the federal level, but there are some loopholes at the state level, and this closes that loophole.”

The bill passed on a 7-2 vote and now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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