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Concerns Aired Over Health Bridge Bill

The Senate Committee on Health yesterday passed SBX1-3 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) on an 8-0 vote.

“This bill would establish a bridge plan for the health benefit exchange, which we now know as Covered California,” Hernandez said. “It will allow people to move from coverage to coverage within the exchange.”

When beneficiaries have a change in family size or income, their eligibility to qualify for certain subsidies within the exchange can change, Hernandez said. The bridge plan tries to make it easier for those people and their families to maintain the same health plan and provider network, even when circumstances change, and that would cut down on churning (administrative upheaval caused when people move from plan to plan), he said.

Donna Campbell, deputy secretary for legislative affairs at the state’s Health and Human Services agency, said the plan is designed to make a smooth shift for those between 138% and 200% of federal poverty level.

“It’s part of this administration’s continuing commitment to implementing the Affordable Care Act,” Campbell said. “In convening the special session, the governor said low-cost coverage should be of central importance.”

Complete support for the bill was not unanimous, despite the 8-0 vote.

Advocates said they agree with the intent of the bill but would only support it with a set of amendments that are still to be determined.

“We are strongly for the bridge. It fills a vital gap in implementation of the ACA,” said Sarah Nichols, legislative advocate for Service Employees International Union California.

“But we want to ensure that the ‘affordable’ part of the Affordable Care Act is true,” she said.

Beth Capell, legislative advocate for Health Access California, echoed support for the bridge plan, with amendments. “This bill as it stands now,” Capell said, “does not ensure consumers of coverage affordability. We need a balance between continuity of care and affordability.”

Covered California has not yet taken a position on the bill, but exchange staff members have been working with bill staff members to make sure coverage is affordable, said David Panush, director of government relations for Covered California.

Hernandez said the benefits of SBX1-3 are too important to ignore.

“When I think of people deciding between buying food and buying health care I wanted to make sure there was an option that was affordable,” Hernandez said.

Discussion will continue as the bill passes through committees, Hernandez said.

“I’m appreciative that the administration has put its stamp of approval on it. But still there are a lot of outstanding issues,” he said. “My job is making sure everyone in California has access to affordable health care.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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