A massive HMO reform bill barely survived two hours of debate Thursday in the Arizona House.
Rep. Debra Brimhall, R-Pinedale, has nursed the measure along ever since the Legislature convened in January, changing it almost daily in a desperate quest for votes.
Fellow lawmakers were so confused by all the changes that they voted at one point to kill it. But when the debate was over, legislators finally agreed, 30-27, to move it on for a formal House vote.
If the bill survives the House, chances of passage in the Senate are generally considered dim. No date has been set for the House vote.
Along with requiring health-maintenance organizations to cover chiropractic care, Senate Bill 1165 would require HMOs to pay for continued care throughout an illness or for a pregnancy in cases where a doctor leaves a health plan.
HMOs would have to provide optional coverage for brand-name prescription drugs and give 60 days’ written notice when changes are made in coverage of medications in a basic health plan.
Medical directors of health plans would be considered as “engaged in the practice of medicine” and subject to lawsuits when they make decisions on health-care coverage.
With some business lobbyists contending that the reforms would raise HMO costs 30 percent, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce is spending $100,000 on radio commercials and direct mail to constituents of lawmakers who support tougher regulation of HMOs.
“They’re already increasing premiums 30 percent for no reason,” said Rep. John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, a target of the chamber’s campaign. “The way they do business is to cheat customers.”
Rep. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said health plans are the remedy to soaring medical costs, not the cause. And he said government controls are not the solution to complaints about coverage and care.
“If government would get out of this, this crisis would solve itself,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, a controversial bill to curtail bilingual education survived floor debate. But a three-year limit on special classes for non-English speaking children was dropped from House Bill 2387.
The sponsor, Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, agreed to the change in exchange for $160,000 to help the state Department of Education monitor bilingual classes, said Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-southwest Phoenix.
If the Senate passes the bill, it is headed for a conference committee, where majority Republicans are expected to reinstate the three-year limit or let the proposal die as the Legislature adjourns in the next few weeks.
“I hope they kill it,” said Maria Mendoza, chairwoman of English for the Children of Arizona. The group sponsors a California-style initiative to ban bilingual education in Arizona.
Instead of teaching English-deficient children in their own language, schools should “just immerse them in English,” Mendoza said.
In other action, the Senate defeated a proposal to hide the identity of doctors and hospitals on reports from trauma centers to the Department of Health Services.
Opposed by the Arizona Newspapers Association as an erosion of public-records law, House Bill 2506 fell short by a single vote in the 30-member chamber.
State health officials said the secrecy is needed to encourage medical providers to report on their operations in an attempt to build a statewide network for care for accident victims.