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June 03, 2008

California legislators revive plans to expand healthcare insurance

The California Legislature is moving to curb some of the health insurance industry's most profitable and contested practices as lawmakers resurrect portions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's unsuccessful proposal to expand medical coverage.

More than a dozen health bills are advancing through the Legislature, many over the objection of insurers. Some of the proposals were transplanted from the plan that passed the Assembly last year, only to be rejected in the state Senate in January. Other measures are newly devised by the Democrats who control the Legislature.

The bills would require insurers to spend at least 85% of their earnings on patient care; block insurers from canceling policies of patients who need extensive care; and force them to cover more procedures, such as maternity services.

Over the objections of the major doctor and hospital lobbies, the Assembly approved a measure backed by Schwarzenegger that would require medical providers to publicly reveal their costs and medical performance.

In a sign that a desire for piecemeal health care changes is strong this election year, some of the Democrats' bills even have picked up votes among Republicans who did not support Schwarzenegger's package.

"In the aggregate, it could be pretty significant," said Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, of the legislation. "I think it's just getting to the point where the opposition has just overreached so badly and the insurance companies' actions have been so egregious that both sides of the aisle are getting fed up with them."

The governor's health care proposal was rejected in large part because of its $14.9-billion price tag, which senators considered untenable with the state deep in the red. But the bills that are winning initial approval now put most of their costs on the healthcare industry.

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Posted by healthinsurance at June 3, 2008 09:30 PM