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California Bills Detail Baseline Benefits Under Health Reform

California lawmakers considered a pair of bills this week that would establish minimum benefits health plans would be required to offer by 2014.

The Affordable Care Act outlines ten categories of care that people can expect starting in 2014. They range from mental health treatment to dental and vision care for kids. The states are charged with helping to define the essential benefits. That's why Democratic State Senator Ed Hernandez authored his bill.

"Which will guarantee all health coverage products sold in California are quality products that offer consumers robust coverage by setting the floor that products for sale in California must meet," said Hernandez.

Assemblymember Bill Monning authored the other bill. He said for a long time, California lawmakers have been proposing expansions to health coverage, item by item, law by law.

"The Affordable Care Act actually allows up to do it in a more methodical manner, in a manner we can be assured will not result in unintended consequences to the state's budget," explained Monning.

Both bills based their essential benefits on a Kaiser HMO small group plan. Home health care is covered in this one, so is acupuncture and bariatric surgery.

The health insurance industry in California has traditionally been opposed to new insurance requirements. But Patrick Johnson of the California Association of Health Plans said they're on board with federal health reform, and creating these essential benefits for future health consumers.

"It makes sure that when we have exchanges… that they can look at health benefits and not be confused, that they will know that they get broad coverage and where they need it, they will get subsidies to help pay for that coverage," said Johnson.

The essential health benefit bills are expected to be revised and amended as they move through the state legislature.

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