Legislature Moves Into Final Phase

by David Gorn

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The Legislature has two short weeks to pass bills before this session ends on Sept. 13. Legislative committees have pretty much finished with their work for this session.

Over the next 10 days, a number of health-related bills will get their final floor votes in the state Assembly and Senate.

One of them is a proposal to expand independence of practice for pharmacists. SB 493 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) passed out of Appropriations last week and is waiting for an Assembly floor vote.

What won't hit the floor is SB 491, also authored by Hernandez, which would have expanded independence of practice for nurse practitioners. It was held up in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations last week.

"This bill … was ultimately stopped in the Assembly fiscal committee for reasons that had nothing to do with costs to the state," Hernandez said in a statement. "Despite numerous studies showing the safety of expanded practice for nurse practitioners, and not a single piece of contrary data offered by opponents, politics prevailed over sound public policy."

Hernandez added that this legislative rejection comes at a particularly sensitive time, as health care reform is about to kick in. Hernandez hoped that loosening some restrictions on nurse practitioners might ease the expected demand for primary care providers from coverage expansion.

"The unfortunate result is that California will fall further behind in its ability to provide quality health care to our neediest population," Hernandez said. "We lost this round, but the fight is not over."

Other health-related bills that will be decided in the next 10 days:

  • SB 800 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) would require the Department of Health Care Services to pass on names of families enrolled in the Healthy Families program to the Covered California health benefit exchange -- basically to make sure those families are aware of the Covered California options.
  • SB 191 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would extend the sunset date for Maddy funding for emergency services, including pediatric trauma care, until 2017. The bill originally hoped to sunset that emergency department funding in 2021, but the legislation recently was amended to the earlier date. Maddy funding doesn't cost the state, but rather comes out of a state penalty charge whenever fines are collected for criminal offenses.
  • AB 1000 by Assembly member Bob Wiekowski (D-Fremont) would allow direct hiring of physical therapists by physician- and hospital-group corporations. Opponents say the measure is a way to eliminate independent physical therapists; proponents say it's just a way for consumers to directly access physical therapy.
  • AB 411 by Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) requires state officials to include race and ethnicity when compiling their quality data. The bill was prompted by Department of Health Care Services practices, Pan said, which didn't plan to monitor disparities in care, even though the department possessed that data already, he said. It's a requirement to simply mine the existing data for health disparities by race or ethnicity, Pan said.
  • Another bill regarding changes at DHCS is AB 361 by Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It would authorize the department to create a health-home program for Medi-Cal enrollees with chronic conditions.

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