health-care.jpgGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed two bills, one authored by a Santa Clara representative, that together will enact the first health benefit exchange in the U.S. after new health reforms became law in March.

The exchange is a component of the Affordable Care Act, an overhaul of the U.S. health care system signed into law on March 23.

Although the bills were signed today, they will not take effect until January 2014, according to a spokesman at a medical foundation.

AB 1602, by John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and SB 900, by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, will essentially allow individuals to purchase insurance on a market regardless of medical history.

The health benefit exchange will also create a better environment for small businesses to buy insurance.

“Many small businesses don’t have any options right now,” said Scott Hauge, owner of Small Business California, a San Francisco-based insurance company.

“They can buy insurance from one company, maybe two,” he said.

He added that because small businesses lack clout, they pay about 18 percent more than large companies.

The Affordable Care Act and the two recently enacted bills will enable small businesses to pool their companies together and buy insurance.

“You’re going to get a much better price because insurers won’t expect everyone in the pool to get ill at the same time,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment.

The foundation aids 14 underserved California communities, including East Oakland and Richmond, with the mission of making neighborhoods healthier.

Zingale said recent reforms have been “a huge help” because they provide people more access to health care, especially preventative care.

Effective Sept. 23, insurers can no longer charge co-payments for certain preventative care doctor visits, including mammograms and vaccines.

They also can’t deny coverage for children with pre-existing medical conditions, and children are allowed to remain covered under their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

While these provisions have been outlined in the Affordable Care Act, many have been signed into California law through bills authored by state officials, Zingale said.

AB 2345, for example, prevents patients from having their coverage illegally or unfairly rescinded. It was authored by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate.

SB 1163, by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, says insurers must be more transparent about premiums in their health plans.

“We’ve got to drive down cost,” Hauge said, adding that transparency will compel insurers to offer the same benefits as their competitors.

“These bills will simplify the process to be able to identify quality, price, and service.”

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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