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Pre-Existing Condition Reform Passes

When state Sen. Ed Hernandez introduced his bill SB 961 to the Senate floor yesterday, the West Covina Democrat’s speech was laden with the historic nature of the legislation.

“As we all know, on March 23rd of 2010, the president of the United States of America signed into law the comprehensive health care reform bill known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Hernandez said.

“I feel tremendous responsibility to ensure that California continues to lead the nation in implementing federal reform,” he said, “and that we serve as a model for the rest of this country.”

The Senate passed SB 961 yesterday on a 22-13 vote, largely a partisan split. One day earlier, the Assembly passed its version of the bill, AB 1461 by Bill Monning (D-Carmel) on a 50-27 vote. Both bills would require insurers to cover a minimum set of basic requirements and would forbid them from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Hernandez said the bill is an essential component of the health care reform effort. “Under health care reform, it is expected that millions of Californians will be eligible for private health coverage,” Hernandez said. “While California has a history of strong consumer protections in the group market, those protections have largely been absent in the individual market.”

Senate member Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) questioned the sense of passing legislation on health care law, when the Supreme Court is soon due to issue a decision on several aspects of the ACA.

“You said we all know that the ACA is passed and it is the law of the land,” Harman said, “but most of us know there is a Supreme Court challenge pending before the high court that is supposed to render a decision on this probably in the next 30 to 60 days. What will happen, in your view, if the court rules that ACA is unconstitutional?”

Hernandez said the state Legislature has to move ahead based on current law, rather than what might or might not happen in the Supreme Court.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would hope that the court would not overturn any of it,” Hernandez said. “The United States of America is the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide health care for its citizens. If any or all of it is overturned, we would go back decades, and I think it would be a travesty.”

If parts of the ACA are overturned, he said, it’s important for California to be in a position to implement its vision of health care, under whatever the federal parameters might be.

Harman said that vision could cost California a ton of money, potentially: “If the court overturns the ACA, and then if we have the bill that Senator Hernandez is proposing, then California is going to be on the hook for millions and millions and millions of dollars of health care expenses,” Harman said. “Where’s that money going to come from? Why move this forward now, when we can just wait a short period of time, and let’s see what happens, then we can make a more intelligent decision.”

Senator Mark Wyland (R-Carlsbad) voiced support for health care reform — but said California can’t afford it.

“I think it’s one of those crucial issues we ought to spend a lot of time on, as a body,” Wyland said. “Ultimately we, as a society, need to make sure everyone should have access to some form of health care. The goal is right. We have to do this. This is an extremely important measure, and if we had a more prosperous California, perhaps it would be easier.”

Now SB 961 has to make its way through the Assembly, and the next step for Monning’s AB 1461 is to go through the Senate legislative process.

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