New California healthcare laws expand consumer protections


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Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bevy of new healthcare laws designed to expand consumer protections for Californians in need of health insurance or medical care.

One measure, SB 51, requires health insurers in the state to comply with mandates in the new federal healthcare overhaul. Under federal reform, insurers must spend at least 80% of the premiums they collect on the healthcare of their customers in the individual and small-business markets. The figure rises to 85% for premiums collected from large businesses.


The new state law will give small firms in California — those with fewer than 50 employees — a boost by making it easier for them to afford health insurance and keep “more money where it belongs, in their pockets where they can use it to grow their businesses and with it our state’s economy,” said John Arensmeyer, chief executive of the advocacy group Small Business Majority.

Another bill signed by Brown will make it easier for low-income Californians to apply for subsidized insurance starting in 2014 under the federal healthcare overhaul.

That measure, AB 1296, requires the California Health and Human Services Agency to streamline forms and procedures for people seeking subsidies that will be available through a new online insurance exchange.

Brown also signed bills aimed at protecting maternity services for pregnant women and new mothers.

One measure, SB 299, bars employers from refusing to maintain and pay for coverage under group health insurance plans while women are on maternity leave.

Another, SB 222, requires individual health insurance policies in California to provide coverage for maternity services starting July 1, 2012. A third measure, AB 210, extends the same requirement and time line to group health insurance plans.

In a signing message accompanying the maternity bills, Brown said they will give children the “best possible start” to their lives.

“Healthy mothers mean healthy babies,” he said.


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— Duke Helfand