August 12, 2008
& Protect Consumers From “Junk” Insurance
SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumers Union, Health Access California, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network called on state lawmakers at a news conference today to pass legislation to improve the quality of healthcare and to help Californians avoid getting ripped off by “junk” insurance. The bills are considered important steps in the effort to pass broader healthcare reform in California and nationally.
“Improving the safety and quality of care and arming consumers with the information they need to make smarter choices is a key component of healthcare reform,” said Betsy Imholz, Special Projects Director of Consumers Union. “These bills will help set the stage for comprehensive reform by creating incentives for healthcare providers to improve patient care and by giving Californians the information they need to find the best health insurance value.”
The news conference marked the Sacramento stop of Consumer Reports Health’s Cover America Tour, a nationwide road trip chronicling the difficulties many American families face getting affordable, high quality healthcare. More information about the Cover America Tour can be found at: www.CoverAmericaTour.org.
SB 1058 (Alquist) and SB 158 (Florez) are two bills that aim to improve patient care by reducing hospital acquired infections. SB 1058 would mandate public disclosure of hospital acquired infection rates. The bill also requires hospitals to screen high risk patients to identify those colonized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, and to take special precautions with those who test positive to prevent its spread to other patients. SB 158 gives the Department of Health Services additional authority to investigate infection outbreaks and complaints about lax infection control practices.
The Department of Health Services estimates that as many as 9,600 Californians die from hospital infections annually. Many more Californians suffer needlessly from infections and require extra care and longer stays in the hospital to recover. The Schwarzenegger administration estimates that hospital acquired infections add a staggering $3 billion to California’s healthcare bill every year.
Cindy Gaston of Elverta developed a serious MRSA infection following the C-section delivery of her child. She had to be rushed back to the hospital a few days after giving birth when her surgical incision burst open and it became clear that she was very sick. She required multiple surgeries to clean out the infection and ended up staying another ten days in the hospital while undergoing IV antibiotic treatments.
Cindy was surprised by the sometimes poor infection control practices she observed at the hospital and how little information she was provided about how to prevent the spread of her infection to others. She has had three outbreaks of her antibiotic-resistant infection since she was discharged from the hospital and hopes that she won’t become sick again.
“It is no wonder that infections spread from patient to patient when trained medical professionals ignore basic infection control practices,” said Gaston. “We need public disclosure of infection rates because Californians deserve to know which hospitals are doing a good job protecting patients.”
AB 2967 (Lieber) would require public reporting of information about the cost and quality of care delivered by healthcare providers in the state. Numerous studies have shown that the high cost of healthcare is often correlated with bad outcomes, such as patient deaths and unnecessary care. Poor quality care adds billions to the cost of care paid by insurers, consumers, and taxpayers.
AB 2967 would establish the Healthcare Cost and Quality Transparency Committee to develop a plan for making cost and quality data available to the public. The goal is to provide the public and purchasers with data to seek more cost effective care that improves patient outcomes and to enable hospitals and other care providers to compare themselves with their peers and identify areas where improvement is needed.
“Shining the spotlight on healthcare quality, including breakouts by race and ethnicity, will help consumers make more informed choices and spur hospitals and other healthcare providers to improve patient care and reduce disparities,” said Sarah Mercer of the California Pan Ethnic Health Network. “Ultimately, that will help improve patient outcomes and save billions of healthcare dollars.”
SB 1522 (Steinberg) would set standards to help consumers compare health insurance products and weed out “junk” insurance plans. Under existing California law, health insurers can sell products characterized as health insurance that cover only hospitals or only physicians. Health insurers can sell products that have no maximum out of pocket cap, exposing consumers to hundreds of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs in the case of catastrophic illness. Insurers can sell health insurance that covers only a small fraction of the actual cost of care.
“Californians who buy individual health coverage are at the mercy of big insurance companies because they don’t have market power or the information they need to evaluate different plans,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California. “Consumers find it hard to compare products and to know which products provide value and security. Californians need an insurance marketplace that so they know the value of what they are getting and that what they are getting has value. If insurance doesn’t protect you from major medical bills when you are sick, it is no longer insurance.”
SB 1522 would help eliminate “junk” insurance by requiring health insurance to cover doctors, hospitals, preventive care, and any existing statutory mandates, and to have a cap on out-of-pocket expenses. The bill also requires the Department of Insurance and the Department of Managed Care to create five coverage categories that would help organize the insurance market so that consumers can shop more knowledgably. Insurers would be required to offer benchmark plans to assist with apples to apples comparisons.
Michael McCauley – 415-902-9537 (cell)