The bill to regulate health insurers' rate hikes cleared a key hurdle yesterday, as the Senate Committee on Health voted 5-3, with one abstention, to approve AB 52 by Assembly member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles).
Passage came with many caveats and even more proposed amendments. Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), the committee chair and the swing vote on the bill, suggested a raft of changes to the bill before it could garner his support.
"Primarily it's important to depoliticize the decision process [around rate assessments]," Hernandez said. "It's also very important to insert additional transparency in the process."
Hernandez made it clear that this is not the last word from him on this bill.
"I do plan to vote on the bill today, so we can move it out," Hernandez said to Feuer. "You and I have agreed to work on these concerns. If those concerns are not met over time, I do reserve the right to vote against the bill on the floor."
For now, though, the health committee vote was critical. AB 52 has passed the Assembly, but the Senate has long been an uphill fight for advocates of health insurance rate regulation.
"I wanted to thank you for your long and thoughtful work on this bill," Feuer said back to Hernandez. "Even through the Fourth of July weekend, I really appreciate the work done by you and your staff. It is indicative of the efforts we will continue until we reach the finish line."
Yesterday's meeting had an unusual set-up for the health committee, in that it was a vote-only for AB 52, with all of the testimony for and against it presented the week before. Hernandez said that format, and last week's three-and-a-half hours of testimony, helped ease the politically charged nature of the bill and allowed more discussion of the policy details that concerned him.
"That allowed me to formulate some thoughts about how to make it a better bill, in my opinion," Hernandez said, "and how I can support it."
The abstention came from Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield). "There are substantial amendments before the bill today in this committee," Rubio said. "I will stay off the bill today, and if the bill changes drastically then I can vote for it on the floor."
There were a couple of light moments during the hearing. Since it was on the agenda as a vote-only, AB 52 was the last item up for a vote. After all the other agenda items were voted on a small crowd of people remained in chambers to hear the final AB 52 vote.
"Well," committee chair Hernandez said in his best deadpan, "I think we're prepared to adjourn the hearing now."
But then he did call for that final vote.
AB 52 now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.