Lawmakers are considering several bills this month aimed at stabilizing California’s health insurance marketplace, despite a state budget deal that effectively killed other, more expensive proposals.
Several bills take aim at efforts by the Trump administration to weaken provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Key proposals include Senate Bill 910, which would prohibit insurance companies from selling short-term, watered-down insurance in California. The bill would counteract an executive order by President Trump last year that sought to make it easier for people to buy short-term insurance instead of comprehensive health coverage.
Another proposal under consideration is Assembly Bill 2499, which codifies into state law an Obama-era requirement that insurers spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care, not on administrative expenses or profits. A new federal rule issued in April allows states to lower this requirement if they choose.
The Assembly Committee on Health is scheduled to vote on SB 910 on Tuesday. The Senate approved the bill in May. The Senate’s Health Committee passed AB 2499 unanimously this week. If both bills continue to move forward, they could land on the governor’s desk for approval before the end of September.
Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access California, said the bills offer necessary protection from Trump administration attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. He said he’s optimistic the bills will get legislative support, even though a budget deal earlier this month stymied several other health care proposals such as expanding insurance subsidies and Medi-Cal eligibility. That’s because bills such as SB 910 and AB 2499 don’t require spending large amounts of cash, he said.
These bills “are more about using our regulatory power to hold consumers harmless from the administrative attacks from the federal government,” Wright said. “I think there’s some real pride among our state policy makers of having not just implemented, but improved upon the Affordable Care Act.”
Lawmakers have “a desire to protect our progress,” Wright said.
Meanwhile, another bill slated for a Senate Health Committee vote next week would give the Department of Managed Health Care more power to oversee—and if necessary, reject—health plan mergers. Supporters say Assembly Bill 595 will protect the public from health plan consolidation that could lead to reduced competition and higher insurance premiums.
“We only really have five insurers that have 80 percent plus of our market,” Wright said. “If any two of those insurers merged together, that would be a dramatic reduction in choice and competition for consumers.”
In a statement, the California Association of Health Plans said it opposes the bill in its current form but looks forward to working with the bill’s author on amendments.
“AB 595 as currently drafted would add unnecessary complexity and duplication to the health plan mergers and acquisition process, during a time when public policy should focus on market stabilization and preserving the gains California has made under the Affordable Care Act,” spokeswoman Mary Ellen Grant said in an email.
The association has not taken a position on SB 910, and has removed its previous opposition to AB 2499 contingent on an amendment request being written into the bill, she said.