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February 28, 2008

Bills aim at insurers after health care reform in California collapses

With health care reform dead in California - at least on the grand scale that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger envisioned - lawmakers are stepping in with a series of measures they say would help consumers and ban some egregious practices by insurance companies.

The bills fall far short of the governor's vision of sweeping reform, which collapsed last month under the weight of a nearly $15 billion price tag. And they would do little, if anything, to reduce the ranks of the roughly 6.5 million uninsured.

But short of that, supporters say the state can use its regulatory heft to aid consumers and possibly rein in rising health care costs. The measures, they say, would lay the groundwork for the next major reform push, possibly in 2010.

Lawmakers are "looking for an easy path to do something positive that won't cost money that the state doesn't have," said E. Richard Brown, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research. The state has a projected budget shortfall of roughly $8 billion.

One bill is meant to help guide anyone trying to make sense of the dizzying combinations of deductibles, co-pays and premiums in choosing a health plan. The measure, SB 1522, sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would simplify the process. Insurers would have to offer five "benchmark" plans, with easy-to-follow benefits and costs, so a person could make "apples-to-apples" comparisons from one insurance company to the next.

In a similar vein, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Arleta, has a bill to help people measure what they're getting in return for hefty hospital and doctor bills. The bill, AB 2967, would create a "transparency" committee that would collect medical data to gauge the performance of hospitals and doctors treating certain illnesses, relative to what they charge.

At least three bills target a practice that's received widespread attention in recent months - insurance companies that retroactively cancel a patient's insurance coverage, often only after the person gets sick. Some insurers have defended so-called "rescissions" by claiming that patients lied about their health condition in their applications.

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Posted by healthinsurance at February 28, 2008 02:41 PM