Lawmakers meet in LA to discuss hospital reimbursements under Obama health care plan

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In the run-up to federal health care reform, leaders of the state Senate and Assembly health committees met Friday in Los Angeles. They discussed how hospitals bill the government and insurers, and the effects of that billing on patient care.

Health care providers, insurance company officials and patients testified at the hearing.

Democratic Senator Ed Hernandez of West Covina, who convened it, says hospital billing is especially important now that federal health care laws will require all citizens to carry medical insurance in a couple of years.

"It is the responsibility of government to make sure that those individuals, when they purchase that health insurance, that number one, they have access and quality health care, but make sure they’re not overcharged," Hernandez said.

That also goes for California’s Medi-Cal program. Toby Douglas, director of the state Department of Health Services, says that right now, Medi-Cal pays hospitals for each day they keep a patient in the program.

"It really, really creates an incentive for keeping people in the hospital longer," Douglas said, "and not focusing on high quality care but focusing on both volume and seeking the highest reimbursement."

Next January, Medi-Cal will start reimbursing hospitals based on their actual care for patients. Douglas says the system needs that change to handle the 3 million more Californians it expects to join Medi-Cal by 2014.

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