California lawmakers pass multiple bills to begin enacting federal health care reform

Last week, California lawmakers passed a number of health care reform-related bills as the legislature begins to ready for  implementation of the federal law. 

The two signature bills, SB 900 and AB 1602, among other provisions, were passed by the Senate and the Assembly, and help create the new health insurance “exchange” where individuals or families can purchase affordable health insurance coverage.  

The exchange is expected to lower health insurance costs as those purchasing through the exchange will have strong purchasing power for better pricing, more choices, and many individuals and families will be eligible for subsidies.  Additional bills that also cleared one body or the other:

    •    Prohibit denying health care coverage to people with pre-existing conditions

    •    Allow children to remain on their parents’ health plan until they turn 27 years-old

    •    Create mental health parity provisions

    •    Expand maternity coverage

    •    Force insurance companies to get state approval before raising rates

Also last week, a new Field Poll found that the majority of Californians support the health care reform bill (52 percent support vs. 38 percent oppose) and believe that the bill was an important first step, but more change is needed (58 percent). Yet, only a quarter of those polled believe the bill will benefit them directly.

In fact, most people believe health care reform will help lower-income and uninsured Californians. Support and opposition predictably broke down along party lines with 73 percent of Democrats supporting the law vs. 14 percent who oppose it, while 74 percent of Republicans oppose the law with only 19 percent in support.  53 percent of non-partisans also support the bill vs. 34 percent opposed. One in three would like to see the law repealed. 

Not surprisingly, there are some provisions in the bill that garner tremendous support.  People support the provision that would prohibit insurance companies from dropping coverage for people who become sick (81 percent).  They support prohibiting insurance companies from denying children coverage because they have a pre-existing condition (78 percent), and they support requiring health insurance companies to cover people despite any health conditions that may have arisen in the past (69 percent). 

The legislature is right to move forward as reforming the current health insurance system will be complex and time consuming. Moreover, despite the ideological divide in support and/or opposition to health care reform (with the exception of the strong support for provisions that people view will help them as individuals), possessing nine million uninsured Californians demands that the state make the development of a sustainable and efficient health insurance system a top priority for all Californians.