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Even as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to strip funding from the nation’s health reform law yesterday, California lawmakers were advancing bills meant to implement parts of the law early and make sure people are alerted to new benefits as they become available.
Three bills would help California get a jump-start on enacting the federal law, which has already expanded parents’ health coverage to young adults up to 26 and removed barriers to health coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.
- Under the health reform law, certain types of care will be considered “essential benefits” and health insurers will be required to cover them. One of those benefits is maternity coverage. A bill by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would phase in maternity coverage even before it is required under health reform in 2014. Evans cites one statistic in support of the bill: “The percentage of policies containing maternity coverage has dropped from 82 percent in 2004 to only 19 percent in 2009” for women with plans bought on the individual health insurance market. A previous version of this bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- A proposed law by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, would give consumers early notice if they buy or renew individual health insurance policies that don’t offer “minimum essential benefits” or cover on average 70 percent of the cost of policyholders' health care services. The bill would, after Jan. 1, 2014, put health insurance coverage plans in “bronze,” “silver,” or “gold” categories based on their benefits and how much, on average, the health plans spend on each beneficiary.
- Another proposed bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would call on a variety of public health benefit programs to facilitate notifying people [PDF] who might be eligible for the healthcare exchange even before it is up and running. The health reform law and California state law set up the exchange, which has an appointed board and is expected to negotiate for benefits and prices for health insurance policies. People with incomes up to $88,000 for a family of four can get subsidies for buying policies through the exchange. Its rates are expected to be better than those paid now by people who bought on the individual health insurance market since the exchange leadership will negotiate on behalf of thousands of people.
Another bill has a similar aim – helping ensure that people know about the exchange when they need it. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, is carrying a bill that would ensure that people who are filing for divorce or applying for unemployment compensation are notified about the exchange and its benefits. In many cases, people will be automatically enrolled.
Other bills moving through the legislative session do little more than align California law with the new health reform law. A bill by Assemblyman William Monning, D-Santa Cruz, would simply conform California law to federal law by expanding the types of people who can be covered by Medi-Cal. One such group is low-income childless adults who are not pregnant, who previously had very few options for health care.
Outside California, the health reform law remains controversial. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the law in January and have moved on to other approaches at dismantling it. The actions, though, face little chance of moving through the Democrat-controlled Senate or White House.
Outside of the beltway, Kaiser Health News reports that people are taking advantage of aspects of the law in greater numbers than expected. Already more than 600,000 young adults have signed up to be covered by parental health policies, surpassing expectations, for now, that 1.2 million would take advantage of the allowance in 2011. The health reform law allows young adults up to 26 to be covered by parental health policies.