Last week, the state Senate and Assembly began their slow creep toward a return to minimal business, holding teleconference hearings on COVID-19, its impact on California, and how the pandemic will affect this and next year’s budgets.
Legislators at the hearings vocalized what many already know: the state’s budget has been decimated by COVID-19, and thousands of pieces of legislation (legislators are being asked to keep bill packages to three to five bills, and committee chairs are pushing for a singular focus on COVID-19 response and economic recovery) are now on hold. A couple of other takeaways:
- Both the Administration and Legislature recognize the need for more federal dollars to help the state.
- Legislators are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the health care system, including the effect on hospitals, on doctors, and on long-term damage to the way care is delivered.
So where does this leave hospitals?
In the early weeks of the 2020 session, two priorities had materialized: seismic standards reform and the Governor’s proposed Office of Health Care Affordability.
There has been little movement on the Office of Health Care Affordability, as the Governor’s health care staff has been handling COVID-19 24/7. That said, there may still be some push to advance this concept, though significantly narrowed in light of the pandemic.
On seismic reform, while our response to COVID-19 reinforces the concept that hospitals are prepared to handle any emergency using flexible approaches, this legislation will not likely move forward in its current form this year. We will continue to inform legislators that scarce resources should be focused on preparedness and key services, not inflexible infrastructure requirements, as we work toward addressing this mandate.
Almost all budget-related requests — such as those made in conjunction with the National Alliance on Mental Illness California for additional funding for behavioral health care — are now off the table.
All of this work in 2020 is punctuated by the crystal clear understanding that as hospitals’ budgets have been gutted, there will be an ongoing need to press the state and federal governments, as well as other sources, for additional funds to help stabilize the resources you rely on to deliver care to all Californians.