The national healthcare reform just signed into law by President Barack Obama will be a huge boost for low-income Californians and people of color now suffering a disproportionate lack access to care, but further state-level reforms are urgently needed, according to the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based public policy and advocacy group.
The new law “doesn’t go far enough,” Greenlining health program manager Carla Saporta said in a news release. “We urgently need to pass state-level legislation such as AB 2578 so that we have the same sort of strict regulation of health insurance rates that California has now for auto insurance. Surely our health is at least as important as our cars.”
AB 2578 – which in a previous incarnation as AB 1554 passed the Assembly in 2007 but died in the Senate Health Committee, and as AB 1218 was nixed by the Assembly Health Committee last year – would force insurance companies to justify rate hikes to state regulators and require the state Department of Insurance or Department of Managed Care to approve any rate hikes over seven percent per year.
As Democrats declared victory this week in Washington, the Assembly Health Committee passed AB 2578 on Tuesday; Greenlining says continuing public anger over huge rate increases by insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross has helped the bill, too.
“Lack of health coverage is a true emergency for communities of color,” Saporta said. “Latinos, for example, have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group, African-Americans are more than half again as likely to be uninsured as whites, and Asian and Pacific Islanders are more likely than whites to forego routine and preventative care due to costs. National health insurance reform will do a lot to help fix this, but the measure President Obama signed doesn’t do nearly enough to control insurance rates. Our communities urgently need the added protection that AB 2578 will give, and we hope the legislature will pass further consumer protections as well.”
Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento – a Democratic candidate for state Insurance Commissioner – is a driving force behind this bill. Republican gubernatorial candidate and current state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has said he favors better state regulation of insurers rather than the federal regulation contained in this week’s new health reform law. And Poizner has voiced outrage at Anthem Blue Cross’ rate hike.
But Poizner doesn’t support this bill, campaign spokesman Jarrod Agen said today.
“He believes that additional bureaucracy envisioned in the bill doesn’t deal with the fundamental problem of health care — rising medical costs. Steve is committed to lowering healthcare costs, but President Obama demonstrated with his healthcare bill that he is not the least bit interested in lowering healthcare costs for consumers,” Agen said in an e-mailed reply to my query. “Steve wants greater choice and competition in the healthcare marketplace through measures like reducing the number of mandates, increasing the use of electronic medical records, and giving consumers the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines. He believes measures such as these, rather than more government incursion into our healthcare system, will make healthcare more affordable for California’s citizens.”