Anybody who reads Fox & Hounds regularly knows about the organization Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. Their focus is self-explanatory. A similar organization should be created: Citizens Against Legislative Abuse. The mission would be to identify and expose bills that have no real policy objective but are used as political vehicles by special interest groups. These bills are unnecessary and oftentimes have real consequences. For one thing, they distract lawmakers from focusing on the issues of greatest importance. Moreover, if enacted, they hurt Californians.
The poster child for Citizens Against Legislative Abuse is Assembly Bill 975. It is sponsored by the California Nurses Association. There is no real public policy objective behind AB 975. It proposes a solution for which no problem exists. The real goal is to attack nonprofit hospitals. By doing so, they try to gain a competitive advantage to organize or bargain.
So when the goal is political, the policy doesn’t really matter. That’s the reality of AB 975. The bill has undergone an incredible transformation since its introduction, primarily because legislators from both parties were asking tough questions about the need for the bill and the policy ramifications.
Here’s the issue in a nutshell. Nonprofit hospitals today must reinvest every penny they receive above their expenses back into the local community. These investments are guided by what are called Community Benefit Plans. Hospital officials and community leaders develop these plans at the local level to ensure they are tailored to the diverse needs of the community. Hospitals that are well managed can provide substantial amounts of community benefit care including trauma centers, emergency services, burn units, neonatal care, cancer research and advanced training for health care professionals.
To give you an idea of the kind of services we’re talking about, here is a short video about a mobile clinic in Los Angeles that serves the area’s Latino Community. If AB 975 were to pass, clinics like these would face drastic cuts or elimination altogether.
The truth is that AB 975 is a politically motivated effort to create unworkable state mandates that would prescribe exactly how much community benefit hospitals should provide, how they should provide it and even bureaucratic measures by which it must be reported. It is not designed to improve health care or even ensure accountability. The fact is that existing law is a national model for standards of community benefits and the law also has strong accountability and enforcement measures for nonprofit hospitals. Consider the coalition that opposes AB 975: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento; Cancer Support Community, Redondo Beach; WEAVE, Inc.; California Association of Physician Groups; Orange County Medical Association and the California Hospital Association. It is also important to point out that the California Chamber of Commerce and SEIU-UHW, two groups not traditionally on the same side of policy issues, stand together opposed to AB 975.
As a result of this opposition, the Assembly Appropriations Committee wisely placed AB 975 into the suspense file where it would have simply faded away, but – you guessed it – new last minute amendments have been submitted: a political “Hail Mary” if you will. While we don’t know exactly what the amendments are, it is pretty clear that they are only made to sustain the attack.
The good news is that the lessons of AB 975 are evident and clear to all who see them. Special interest agendas have no business driving the legislative process, especially when the consequences can be measured in lives. We’re hopeful that lawmakers continue to stand up to these tactics and reject what is political chicanery at its worst.