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Californians who have been denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions could soon find relief if state lawmakers enact a key component of federal health care reform.
Two bills that are slated to be taken up Monday in the state Senate would create a high-risk pool for individuals who have been denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions -- a practice that will be banned starting in 2014. If they are approved, the California bills would help the state get about $761 million in federal funding to bridge the gap until then.
As many as 250,000 to 400,000 Californians have been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as cancer and asthma, according Health Access, a consumer advocacy coalition that has sponsored many of the state's health care reform bills. Health Access estimates the federal funding will allow about 25,000 to 30,000 additional people to get coverage.
"People with pre-existing conditions cannot get coverage in the private market," said Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis, who authored AB1887. "That could be a child, or it could be people who lost their jobs ... I don't care about the politics, I think it's the right thing to do."
A companion bill, SB227, by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, would authorize the state to set up the program and contract with private insurance companies to provide coverage.
Both bills passed the Assembly with bipartisan support, but Villines expects them to meet resistance from Senate Republicans, who he says are opposed because the funding only lasts for three years.
Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth, of Murietta, and several other Republican senators did not return calls for comment about the bills from The Associated Press last week.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, sponsored both bills, and his staff has worked closely with the Legislature on more than a dozen bills that would enact the changes signed into law by President Barack Obama in March.
He called the legislation a "win-win opportunity for California."
Villines' bill would establish a fund to receive the $761 million in federal funding California is eligible for, part of which will go to subsidize the insurance companies' costs to take on more expensive customers.
The funds could be spent as early as July 1, so the lawmakers are rushing to pass the bills.
The state already has a high-risk pool that enables about 7,000 people to buy health insurance funded through premiums and funds from Proposition 99, the state's cigarette tax, said Jeanie Esajian, spokeswoman for Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which runs that program and would administer the new one. But the existing program has a waiting list and offers only limited coverage.
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said the proposed new insurance plans would have lower premiums and would be less restrictive.
"As individuals we have no market power, and until 2014 insurers are allowed to cover who they want to and to deny who they want to," Wright said.
The Legislature may also consider several other bills of note this week, including:
-- California would allow Internet gambling under a bill before the Senate Government Organization Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, argues that more than 1.5 million Californians already participate in illegal online gambling. His SB1485 would let the state Department of Justice contract with operators to provide state-sanctioned games that would allow at least 10 percent of their gross revenue to go to the state treasury.
-- Companies may have to disclose if they transported Nazi victims to World War II death camps or concentration camps if they want to help build or operate California's $45 billion high speed rail system. A bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, would let the California High-Speed Rail Authority disqualify bids from companies that carried victims, though it gives firms a chance to explain the circumstances and say if they have paid reparation. AB619 is set to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Committee.
-- Motorcycle riders would face tougher monitoring of their tail pipe emissions under a bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Under current state law, car owners must have their vehicles inspected and tested every two years, but motorcycle owners are exempt. SB435 would subject bikes to smog checks. Pavley's office says motorcycles emit more pollutants per mile driven than cars. The Assembly Transportation Committee will hear SB435 Monday.
-- Owners of rifles and shotguns would have to register their long guns the same way handgun owners do under a bill before the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, says his AB1810 would let police track gun sales and ownership through a state database. He says nearly as many long guns are used in crimes as are handguns.
Associated Press Writers Don Thompson and Samantha Young contributed to this report.