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NUHW and allies back new bill to increase fines on health plans that violate state law

NewsApril 27, 2022

Over the last two years, NUHW has passed two landmark behavioral health bills, SB 855 and SB 221, which guarantee Californians the right to receive medically necessary behavioral health care and require HMOs like Kaiser to provide follow-up appointments within 10 business days.

Now we’re teaming up again with State Senator Scott Wiener and behavioral health advocates on a new bill, SB 858, that would significantly increase the fines imposed on health plans for persistently and systematically violating state law.

The current fine structure in California has been in place since the 1970s and has not kept up with inflation. As a result, health plans like Kaiser often choose to pay fines rather than provide care. SB 858 would change this practice by:

  1. Increasing administrative fines fourfold.
  2. Increasing civil penalties from $2,500 per violation to $25,000 per violation.
  3. Authorizing regulators to impose Corrective Action Plans to require compliance from health plans, with state monitoring of health plans that don’t satisfy the Corrective Action Plans in a timely manner.

The Senate Health Committee recently voted 8 to 1 to advance the bill after hearing testimony from Jasmin Hakes about her daughter’s struggle to access mental health care from Kaiser.

In her testimony, Jasmin, who has shared her story with NUHW researchers, testified that after her eldest daughter began having suicidal thoughts, “We began pleading with Kaiser for therapy and help. We were told there were no therapists available.”

She added:

Since then she has tried to kill herself twice. Twice she has been on life support in the ICU. In the last 18 months she’s been hospitalized six times. And every time she has been discharged with no follow-up or aftercare. In spite of the severity of her mental illness and repeated appeals for services, Kaiser has informed us they have no available mental health professionals on staff and their contracted therapists are booked solid….

We’ve been lucky. My daughter is still alive but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to say that. She still needs help and we still can’t get it…

With this bill, you’ll be pushing Kaiser to do what they’ve supposed to have been doing all along — providing that care. Increased fines won’t fix everything but it might give my daughter and thousands of others the care needed to have a happy, healthy future instead of becoming a sad and all-to-common statistic.”