Today a bill to create a state Basic Health Program comes before the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, with the intention of getting sprung out of committee and to the legislative floor for a vote.
SB 703 by Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) is currently "on suspense" -- a kind of legislative limbo for bills with significant potential fiscal impact on California. All bills with a financial impact of $150,000 a year or more have to be put on the suspense file. The appropriations committee can then evaluate all of those bigger-ticket items collectively, so that the committee can better regulate how much spending it approves.
Hernandez has been proposing amendments that would lessen the potential financial impact of SB 703, and today the committee will decide whether or not to remove the bill from suspense.
If SB 703 is removed from suspense at today's hearing, it will head to the Assembly floor for a vote. All bills need to be approved by the Legislature before the end of August when this year's legislative session ends.
The Basic Health Program has generated quite a lot of debate -- not all of it the usual for-it/against-it kind of debate. For instance, BHP would affect the state's Health Benefit Exchange by taking roughly 800,000 participants from the exchange pool. That would likely limit the purchasing power of the exchange. Exchange board members have not come out against it, but instead have expressed uncertainty and ambivalence about the merits of BHP.
If adopted, it would create low-cost health care insurance for as many as one million low-income Californians who would receive care at public hospitals through public health plans. It is one of the options in the federal health care reform package, and is similar in some ways to the exchange, though the cost of insurance and the provider reimbursement rate are both expected to be lower under BHP.
Federal guidelines on the details of BHP still have not been issued, so there is a lot of uncertainty about the program. The exchange board recently released a commissioned, independent analysis of the BHP's possible effect on the exchange, which said the purchasing power of the exchange likely would be compromised to some degree, but that the risk mix at the exchange likely would not change.