Legislature Returns, So Will Some Bills

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

The California Legislature reconvenes Monday and lawmakers may ring in the old as well as the new.

Several high-profile bills are likely to resurface this session, including expansion of mid-level caregivers' scope of practice and rescission of a Medi-Cal provider rate cut that went into effect last year.

"Given the brighter financial outlook for the state, the Legislature may want to look at restoring some cuts that were made," said Scott Graves, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget Project, in addressing a stronger budget projection by the state Legislative Analyst's Office last year.

"This really is a critical opportunity to look again at all that we've been cutting the last few years," he said.

The Legislature in 2011 passed a 10% cut in Medi-Cal reimbursements to providers. Phased-in cuts did not start until September 2013 after being held up in court challenges for more than two years. Legislation did pass last session to exempt rural acute-care skilled nursing facilities from the cut, but the bulk of providers in California still are feeling it.

In May 2013, hopes faded for passage of SB 640 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (Long Beach), which would have reversed the 10% cut. Lara has not yet committed to bringing the bill back to the floor, but the bill had strong bipartisan support until it was stalled in committee and it could be revived by a number of legislators who have voiced strong support for it.

In September 2013, several bills to expand scope of practice for mid-level practitioners failed and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) vowed to bring back at least two of them: SB 491, which would have expanded independence of practice for nurse practitioners; and SB 492, which would have expanded the scope of practice for optometrists. Both measures are designed to help ease the shortage of physicians in California.


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