On Tuesday, a CHA-sponsored bill that enhances the ability of critical state agencies to support the health care delivery system during a state of emergency passed the state Senate and is now on its way to the governor’s desk for his action.
The bill, SB 979, authored by Senator Bill Dodd, draws on the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and gives the state the authority to quickly respond and compel insurers to authorize critical health care services in times of crisis. Specifically, it expands the authority of the Department of Managed Health Care and the Department of Insurance to require health plans to approve patients to see out-of-network providers if in-network providers are unavailable and to expedite time limits for prior authorization or responding to claims.
These changes will help safeguard against a troubling dynamic that surfaced during the pandemic in which hospital beds became filled with patients who no longer needed acute care but could not be discharged because they needed post-acute services that health plans and insurers were too slow to authorize.
There is no telling when the next public health crisis will come, or if the current pandemic will regain momentum as new strains of COVID-19 emerge. What is certain, however, is that bills like this one, which advance with little fanfare or media attention, make a real difference in hospitals’ ability to care for patients when lives are on the line — during times of widespread emergency.
If the governor does sign this bill into law, California will be more prepared and better equipped to help hospitals meet any challenge that arises.