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Davis Signs Bills on Seniors, Rural Health Care Coverage

September 15, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis approved a health care package Saturday that he said will protect families' access to health care in rural areas and improve services for senior citizens.

Davis signed Assembly Bill 1282, sponsored by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), which expands coverage to people who have been denied enrollment in health care plans because they live 15 miles outside designated service areas.

Cardoza said commercial medical plans are leaving thousands of rural Californians without access to affordable health care. Rural counties have higher percentages of low-income people who must travel great distances to receive health care, and who frequently pay more for specialty care, he said.

"These problems are especially severe for seniors," he said. "That really went to the heart of the bill."

The measure also requires a health maintenance organization planning to leave an area to hold a public meeting at least 30 days before leaving and to provide notice of that hearing in a local newspaper. The new law applies to health care service plans in counties with no more than 500,000 residents.

Daniel Zingale, director of the state Department of Managed Health Care, said that when HMOs pull out of rural areas, it is particularly troubling for seniors, because often, when one HMO leaves, another follows.

"We think this bill will take an important step toward making HMOs think twice before making rash changes," he said.

Davis also signed Senate Bill 339 by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), which imposes new requirements for transferring residents of long-term care facilities that have closed.

The bill increases from 30 to 60 the number of days that are allowed for residents to find another placement. It also requires the Department of Health Services to prevent transfers when relocation services are not provided to the resident.

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