What’s next? California is pushing ahead with a significant health policy overhaul

Covid-19 has encouraged California leaders to rethink their ambitious health care agenda, they still managed to enact significant new laws intended to lower consumer health care spending and expand access to health coverage.

When Governor Gavin Newsom concluded the chaotic legislative year — his deadline to sign or veto bills — what emerged wasn’t the sweeping platform he and state lawmakers had outlined at the beginning of the year. But the dozens of health care measures they approved included first-in-the-nation policies to require more comprehensive coverage of mental health and addiction, and thrusting the state into the generic drug-making business.

The governor also signed into law a raft of COVID-related bills intended to address the biggest public health emergency in a century, such as measures to stockpile protective gear for health care workers.

Among the most controversial changes Newsom signed into law was the largest expansion of the state’s family leave program since it was enacted in 2014, an upgrade opposed by the state’s business interests. The tobacco industry also took a hit when Newsom approved a measure banning retail sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, with exceptions made for flavored hookah products. And Newsom bucked the powerful doctors’ lobby by granting nurse practitioners the ability to practice without physician supervision.

Here’s a look at some of the major health measures Newsom signed into law this year. Most will take effect on Jan. 1.

Behavioral Health

Lawmakers made significant changes to mental health coverage, and perhaps the most consequential is a mental health parity bill that requires state-regulated health insurers in California to cover all treatment deemed medically necessary for mental health and substance abuse disorders, from depression to opioid addiction. Health insurers opposed the bill, arguing it would drive up health care spending.

Another bill allows peer providers — people with their own histories of mental illness or substance abuse who help other Californians navigate behavioral health issues — to be certified by the state. Once certified, they can bill Medi-Cal for their services.

Scope of Practice

Newsom gave nurse practitioners, who are nurses with advanced training and degrees, the power to practice independently, despite major opposition from the California Medical Association. Supporters say the new law will help address health care provider shortages, especially in rural and underserved communities. Certified nurse-midwives will also be allowed to attend low-risk pregnancies in both hospital and home settings without a physician’s supervision.

Cutting Health Care Costs

California will enter the highly competitive generic drug market through a first-in-the-nation law that puts the state government in direct competition with private drug manufacturers.

California must forge partnerships with one or more drug companies to make or distribute a broad range of generic and biosimilar drugs that are cheaper than brand-name products. The bill specifically calls for the production of the diabetes medicine insulin, because makers have hiked prices sharply in recent years.

Newsom also approved a health care transparency measure requiring the state to collect data on the amount state-regulated health insurers pay for specific medical services, from knee replacements to asthma treatments. The data could help policymakers identify excessive spending on certain treatments and provide fodder for proposals to control health care costs.

Newsom also signed legislation cementing into state law key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, a move guaranteeing Californians will not lose coverage protections should the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the law. Another new law bans health insurers in California from imposing annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and also requires health insurers to cover a range of preventive care services, from cholesterol and blood pressure screenings to immunizations, without charging patients copays or deductibles.

Covid-19

As California grapples with the highest Covid-19 case counts in the country, lawmakers approved a suite of bills in response to the pandemic, largely intended to protect essential workers.

Employers will have to provide written notice within one business day to employees who may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus at their worksite. They must also report the details of workplace outbreaks to local public health authorities within 48 hours.

Newsom also signed legislation making it easier for firefighters, health care workers and other front-line workers infected with the coronavirus to get workers’ compensation. State law now presumes these front-line workers were infected with the virus on the job unless their employers prove otherwise.

Certain employees who have been exposed to the virus will also have more paid sick leave time. Food-processing companies with at least 500 workers must provide two weeks of paid sick leave to workers who have been exposed to Covid-19 or have been advised to quarantine.

The law also grants health care workers and emergency responders two weeks of paid sick leave, closing a loophole in a Covid-relief bill Congress approved this spring.

Two new laws will address another major challenge exposed by the coronavirus pandemic: requiring hospitals to stockpile a three-month supply of protective gear, and mandating that the California Department of Public Health establish an additional stockpile for health and other essential workers to last 90 days during a pandemic.

Nursing homes, which have been at the epicenter of Covid-19 deaths, will be required to have a full-time “infection preventionist” on staff to help stem the spread of disease. The law also requires nursing homes to report deaths from a communicable disease to the state within 24 hours during an emergency related to that disease.

And California’s roughly 40,000 licensed pharmacists will be allowed to administer Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

If you looking for more Covid-19 assistance, let’s begin a conversation. Send me an email at bknerr@vanbeurden.com — I look forward to hearing from you and developing new solutions of 2021.

 

Material in this blog was published by BenefitsPro.com

Brad Knerr

bknerr@vanbeurden.com

Sales Associate | Los Osos