January 23, 2015

For Immediate Release                                                                                                       CONTACT:  Janet Chin (626)430-2499

January 23, 2015

 (Sacramento, CA) – Today Senator Ed Hernandez, O.D. (D-West Covina) introduced SB 137 to require health plans and insurers to post accurate health care provider directories on their Internet Websites.

 During last year’s health insurance open enrollment period many people had a difficult time determining which plans their providers were in and some felt misled by the plans they chose.    While this problem is not a new issue, it has garnered significant attention in the media with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The problem was so bad Covered California (California’s health benefit exchange) had to take their provider search tool off-line and it is not known when it will be reinstated.  Many people complained that they were misled about which plans had contracted with their providers.  Due to consumer complaints, DMHC surveyed two large California health plans and issued four deficiencies for each plan because providers were listed in error or not available at the listed addresses.  The carriers are disputing some of DMHC’s findings.

“In a world where we compel people to purchase health insurance, we must empower consumers to make accurate and informed decisions about the plans and policies they are choosing,” said Hernandez.

Existing California law only requires health plans to provide a list of providers, upon request, that includes which providers have notified the plan that they have closed practices or are otherwise not accepting new patients.  The law requires plans to indicate that the list is subject to change without notice.  "The California law on the books for provider directories was written in the 'dark ages' of paper directories," said Betsy Imholz, Special Projects Director for Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy division of nonprofit Consumer Reports. "It's time for an update and in this electronic era, improving the content of directories should be easier than ever."

The bill would require the provider directories to indicate if the provider or staff speaks any non-English language.  "California consumers come from diverse backgrounds and speak multiple languages," said Sarah de Guia, Executive Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. "This bill will help meet the needs of our diverse communities by helping them identify providers that speak their language."

 "We don't allow other products to be sold with an inaccurate listing of ingredients--we can't have consumers spending significant dollars on premiums for plans with inaccurate listings of their providers." said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition. "This bill would make sure provider directors are accurate and standardized, so consumers can know what they are buying and make the right decisions."

 The bill is sponsored by California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Consumers Union, and Health Access California and will be heard in the Senate Health Committee in April.

# # #