This week, California lawmakers approved several bills that would help implement the federal health reform law by 2014, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Details of Bills
The Legislature passed AB 1453, by Assembly Member Bill Monning (D-Carmel), would give the Department of Managed Health Care oversight of certain reform law provisions.
Another bill (AB 1461), by Monning, also would give additional authority to DMHC. However, as of late Thursday, that measure had not yet been approved.
The Legislature also passed SB 951 and SB 961, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), which would give similar oversight powers to the Department of Insurance.
Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee, said, "2014 is essentially here, and we need to prepare for implementation" of the reform law. He said, "California needs to play an important role in ensuring as many people have health care as possible."
The bills now go to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for consideration.
Implications for Smokers
A provision in the reform law requires insurers to cover all individuals regardless of their health status. However, the law allows individual states to decide whether to charge higher health insurance premiums for smokers.
This week, lawmakers discussed the provision while considering the health reform bills.
Anti-smoking advocates say they oppose charging smokers more for insurance despite the cost of tobacco-related illnesses because they do not want to discourage smokers from participating in smoking cessation programs or seeking health care services.
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said, "You put the higher price on cigarettes because that's what you're trying to discourage," adding, "You don't put a higher price on treatment, which is what you're trying to encourage."
Jim Knox, a Sacramento-based lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, said charging smokers more for health insurance "reverts to policies that allow insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, and it's a huge problem for people with cancer" (Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 8/31).
Lawmakers Approve Flu Vaccine Bill Without Mask Requirement
In related news, state lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill (SB 1318) designed to encourage health care workers to get influenza vaccinations, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.
The initial bill would have required unvaccinated workers to wear surgical masks while interacting with patients during flu season, but the provision was dropped by the Assembly earlier this week (Thompson, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 8/31).
Opponents of the mask requirement felt that it unfairly marked people who declined to get the vaccine as problem workers and could undermine their relationship with patients and coworkers (Gorn, "Capitol Desk," California Healthline, 6/1).
The California Nurses Union had lobbied against the requirement.
However, the California Hospital Association opposed the final bill mainly because the requirement was removed.
Jan Emerson-Shea, CHA spokesperson, said, "We think wearing masks is the right thing to do for patients," adding, "How do hospitals enforce this otherwise?" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 8/31).