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Key Votes this Week on Surprise Medical Bills, Drug Prices

Several health-care bills that promise greater protections for consumers face key decisions in Sacramento this week. (liljoel/iStockphoto)
Several health-care bills that promise greater protections for consumers face key decisions in Sacramento this week. (liljoel/iStockphoto)
August 10, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Several bills aimed at protecting health-care consumers face do-or-die votes this week in Sacramento. Today, the State Assembly Appropriations Committee hears Senate Bill 1010, which would force drug companies to justify significant prescription-drug price hikes and give notice of the increases.

Anthony Wright, executive director with the advocacy group Health Access, said a little "sunlight" might shed light on the soaring prices.

"We typically require similar notice and disclosure of other parts of the health industry, but prescription drug prices are often a black box," he said. "This would provide just some very basic, commonsense transparency."

On Monday, the State Senate Appropriations Committee heard Assembly Bill 72, which would prevent insurers from sending patients a big bill if they use an in-network hospital, but end up unwittingly seeing an out-of-network physician.

The real decision for both bills comes tomorrow, when the committees decide which bills get out of the so-called "suspense file" and get a vote in the full chamber.

AB 72 is a compromise bill to replace last year's similar legislation (AB 533), which failed by three votes. This version includes higher reimbursement rates for doctors. Wright said patients who play by the rules should not be penalized with huge out-of-network bills.

"Patients need to be protected that if they go to a network facility, that all the cost-sharing related to that visit is also in-network, typically a small co-pay, rather than uncovered or at significant expense," he added.

Several other bills on mid-year cost-sharing increases, notice on large premium hikes, and the right to a timely appointment are also headed for final votes in the next few weeks.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA