September 15, 2011

The Honorable Jerry Brown
Governor, State of California
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: AB 922 (Monning) –Support

Dear Governor Brown:

Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, urges you to sign into law AB 922 (Monning). AB 922 would create a one-stop shop for consumers’ health insurance questions and complaints through the Office the Patient Advocate. The bill will also move the Office of the Patient Advocate and the Department of Managed Healthcare (DMHC) from the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency to the Health and Human Services Agency.

California currently has a complex system of offices and assistance centers to help healthcare consumers access information on their health coverage. Depending on whether the consumer has employer-based or public coverage, if they are in Medicare or Medi-Cal, or if they have a PPO instead of an HMO, individuals are required to go to different offices for answers to their health insurance questions or to file complaints about their insurance plan. The Office of the Patient Advocate, under AB 922, would provide a clear, centralized source for assistance, as well as allowing for contracts with local community-based organizations to provide consumer-friendly and culturally appropriate services.

Health reform will mean that millions more California consumers will be eligible for, and required to obtain, health insurance coverage. The array of public and private choices, and requirements with varying effective dates, will make it ever more difficult for consumers to navigate the system. Californians need one, clear, easy place to go for unbiased, up-to-date and accurate information on health coverage choices and issues. The re-invention of the Office of the Patient Advocate envisioned by AB 922 would accomplish that.

AB 922 also positions the State of California to maximize federal funds for ombudsman and consumer navigation services. The measure expands the role of community-based non-profits in providing face-to-face, linguistically and culturally appropriate assistance to help consumers navigate a multi-payer, multiple-plan system. This assistance, tailored to the needs of California’s diversity of consumers, will be critically important to have in place, publicized and understood by the public well in advance of the mandate for individual coverage taking effect in 2014.

Given the new choices in health coverage and resources added to the existing complexity of our healthcare arena, California needs a central forum to help expand consumers’ knowledge about their healthcare and help them solve problems. For those reasons, Consumers Union urges your signature on AB 922.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth M. Imholz
Special Projects Director

cc: The Honorable Bill Monning, Chair, Assembly Health Committee