California expands paid sick days and boosts health worker wages

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California Govt. Gavin Newsom signed bills to expand paid sick leave, add bereavement leave for abortions and raise wages for health care workers.

Newsom blessed a rare agreement between labor and the health industry to gradually raise a nation-leading $25-an-hour minimum wage for health workers statewide. Estimates based on previous versions of the bill found it would increase health care costs by billions of dollars each year and put pressure on state Medicaid programs to raise reimbursement rates for long-term care to maintain access to services for patients. Other new laws aim to strengthen reproductive rights, as well as patient protections against errant doctors and pharmacists and surprise ambulance bills.

Still, in a possible sign of his national ambitions and experience as a businessman and father, the Democrat set the mood for bill-signing season by vetoing free condoms and psychedelic mushroom possession in schools.

He rejected the criminalization of such hallucinogens although he supported their therapeutic potential as “an exciting frontier”. He urged the proposals to be tried again next year, this time adding specific treatment guidelines, including recommended doses and protection for people with underlying psychosis. The main author of the bill is Rajya Sen. Scott Winer of San Francisco, who introduced the proposal amid successful decriminalization efforts in Colorado, Oregon and some cities, said veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression should not be penalized for seeking relief.

Newsom also lowered the $35 price cap for a 30-day supply of insulin in favor of his own cost-cutting efforts, citing his administration’s $50 million contract to begin sourcing its own insulin early next year. He argued that this approach would avoid indirect price increases for consumers that could come in the form of higher premiums to cover cheaper insulin.

The governor was similarly wary of vetoing health and safety protections for domestic workers, arguing that “individual families and households cannot be regulated in the same way as traditional businesses.”

The new laws will take effect in 2024 unless otherwise noted:

sick day

California workers would be entitled to five paid sick days a year under SB 616 by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat from Long Beach. That’s more than the three days California has required since 2014, but less than the seven days Gonzalez originally sought. Advocates say workers don’t have to show up sick, potentially spreading illnesses, because they can’t afford to stay home. But the California Chamber of Commerce included the bill in its annual list of job killers and said it would hurt struggling small businesses.

Abortion and failed adoption leave

Parents who experience separation through miscarriage, stillbirth, failed adoption or surrogacy agreement would all be entitled to bereavement leave under SB 848. The bill, by state Sen. Susan Rubio, a Democrat from the San Gabriel Valley, would include unpaid reproductive loss leave under existing state law that allows for five days of bereavement leave after the death of a family member. He called reproductive loss “one of the most traumatic events a person can experience,” noting that Illinois and Utah enacted similar laws in 2022. The bill applies to companies with five or more employees.

Abortion protection

A year after the US Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, Newsom signed nine abortion-related laws, adding stronger protections to the procedure California adopted a year ago. Among them is SB 345, which would increase protections for medical providers who live in California but ship abortion pills or sex-changing drugs to the state where it’s illegal. The main author of the bill is Rajya Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley, said in a statement that the laws “reinforced California’s position as a national leader in reproductive freedom.” Another bill, AB 1646, by Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen, a Democrat from Elk Grove, would allow doctors from other states to receive abortion training in California without obtaining a California medical license.

Behavioral Health Fund

Voters will get a direct say on Newsom’s key behavioral health initiative, Proposition 1, in March. After signing a bipartisan package of bills, Newsom will ask voters to approve billions of dollars aimed at alleviating California’s seemingly intractable homelessness crisis. He says it represents a paradigm shift in how California deals with addiction, but the proposal is opposed by those worried about expanding involuntary treatment and diverting funding from existing community-based programs. He signed SB 43, expanding state conservation laws to make it easier to force people into treatment for mental illness or addiction.

Medical Licensing Fee

California’s medical board will be required to follow new procedures when investigating complaints, while doctors will pay higher licensing fees to help fund those investigations. SB 815, by Sen. Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat, mandated the new complaint procedure amid criticism of the board by patient advocates, who say bad doctors often avoid approval. It would also gradually increase the license renewal fee to $1,255 every two years, from $863 currently. It also repeals AB 2098, passed last year, which said it was an unprofessional conductor for doctors to spread misinformation or confusion about Covid-19. The law has been plagued by multiple lawsuits with conflicting rulings, including one by a federal judge who called it “unconstitutionally vague.”

Pharmacy errors

According to the National Academy of Medicine, medication errors harm at least 1.5 million Americans annually and are one of the most common medical errors. In California, they result in a citation for the top violation. AB 1286, pushed by Assemblymember Matt Haney, a Democrat from San Francisco, is what he said is the first requirement in the country that retail pharmacies report every error. It gives the pharmacist in charge of each store the power to increase staffing and the responsibility to notify store management of hazardous conditions. The California State Board of Pharmacy can close a pharmacy if conditions do not improve.

Surprised ambulance bill

According to Health Access California, patients who call for an ambulance can sometimes get a “surprise bill” of over $1,000. AB 716, by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner, Democrat of Encinitas, protects consumers from out-of-network costs for ambulance services and protects uninsured Californians from being charged what she calls inflated ambulance rates. An analysis by the California Health Benefits Review Program says health plans and victims will have to pay more for out-of-network services.

Life saving medicine

AB 1651, by Assemblymember Kate Sanchez, a Republican from Rancho Santa Margarita, would require schools to have emergency epinephrine auto-injectors so that school nurses or trained volunteers can treat life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. According to the Latino Food Allergy Network, which sought the bill, more than 15% of children with food allergies have a reaction at school.

Food security

By 2027, California will become the first US state to ban four chemicals widely used in processed foods and beverages, following the lead of the European Union and other countries. AB 418, by Democratic Assembly members Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Weeks, initially drew headlines because it would have banned titanium dioxide, which is used in Skittles, but that chemical was dropped from the bill. Opponents say the United States and California already have adequate food safety and food labeling requirements. Newsom and supporters of the bill blasted the Food and Drug Administration for failing to act.

This article is produced by KFF Health Newswhich reveals California HealthlineAn editorially independent service California Health Care Foundation.

Kaiser Health NewsReprinted from this article khn.orgA national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of KFF’s core operating programs – the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.

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