New Laws Keep Pandemic-Weary California at Forefront of Health Policy Innovation – Health News Today

SACRAMENTO — Though COVID-19 forced California leaders to scale back their ambitious health care agenda, they still managed to enact significant new laws intended to lower consumer health care spending and expand access to health coverage.

When Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom concluded the chaotic legislative year Wednesday — his deadline to sign or veto bills — what emerged wasn’t the sweeping platform he and state lawmakers had outlined at the beginning of the year. But the dozens of health care measures they approved included first-in-the-nation policies to require more comprehensive coverage of mental health and addiction, and thrusting the state into the generic drug-making business.

“We had less time, less money and less focus, but COVID makes the causes of expanding coverage and trying to control health care costs that much more important,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a Sacramento-based consumer advocacy group.

The governor also signed into law a raft of COVID-related bills intended to address the biggest public health emergency in a century, such as measures to stockpile protective gear for health care workers.

This year’s legislative season took place against the backdrop of an unprecedented pandemic that sparked a statewide stay-at-home order, back-to-back emergency legislative recesses, the Capitol’s first foray into remote voting and a projected $54 billion budget deficit.

Among the most controversial changes Newsom signed into law was the largest expansion of the state’s family leave program since it was enacted in 2014, an upgrade opposed by the state’s business interests. The tobacco industry also took a hit when Newsom approved a measure banning retail sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, with exceptions made for flavored hookah products. And Newsom bucked the powerful doctors’ lobby by granting nurse practitioners the ability to practice without physician supervision.

But several contentious health bills stalled in the legislature and never made it to Newsom’s desk, including measures that would have given the state attorney general more authority to reject hospital consolidations, expanded the state’s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, to unauthorized immigrants ages 65 and up, and capped consumers’ out-of-pocket costs for insulin.

Among Newsom’s vetoes were a pair of bills that sought to expand telemedicine, as well as legislation to adopt patient privacy protections for COVID-19 genetic testing.

“I think we all wish we’d had more opportunities to move more things forward,” said Assembly member Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), who chairs the Assembly Health Committee. “Under the circumstances, I think we did a good job.”

Here’s a look at some of the major health measures Newsom signed into law this year. Most will take effect on Jan. 1.

Behavioral Health

Lawmakers made significant changes to mental health…