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Healthcare: Not my constituent? Not my problem.

June 30, 2011 |  5:33 pm

HernandezNote to state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina): When Californians come to your committee to testify about personal hardships, it's probably not a good idea to yuk it up about them not being your constituents.

Hernandez, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, presided over a lengthy hearing Wednesday on AB 52, a bill to give state regulators the power to limit health insurance premiums. After Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and several consumer groups spoke in favor the bill, Joseph Villela of Monterey Park -- which is currently in Hernandez's district -- took the microphone to talk about his mother's problem with rising premiums.

Villela said his mother, a self-employed cosmetics saleswoman, obtained an individual health policy in 2005 for $200 a month. By the end of 2008, she was paying $800 a month.

"We had to decide between paying for her mortgage and paying for her medical insurance. At the end, we decided to drop her coverage as a result of the cost," Villela said. "Now she only hopes her preexisting conditions will not become more acute. And if they do, the only remedy that we have in our hands will be emergency services or the emergency room, given that she does not qualify for state programs as a result of her income."

Hernandez thanked Villela, then asked, "Where do you live?" After Villela said "The city of Monterey Park," Hernandez responded, "Well, after the redistricting lines, you're not going to be in my district anymore," drawing guffaws from the committee room. "Monterey Park's no longer in my district," he added with a laugh, then dismissed Villela, saying, "Next."

The exchange can be seen on this recording at the California Channel's website, starting a little after the 1 hour 49 minute mark.

Granted, Villela's not your average resident -- he's a civil rights advocate who spends his time trying to persuade government agencies to do things. But this was the first time he's told his own family's story. And regardless of whose district he lives in, Hernandez's reaction was demeaning.

Hernandez, by the way, is a doctor of optometry. "As a healthcare provider in predominantly low-income communities though, the need to improve access to healthcare is what drove him to run for office," his website declares.

The senator worried aloud on Wednesday that AB 52's protections against excessive insurer profits would hinder the ability of doctors and hospitals to pass part of the cost of treating Medi-Cal patients along to people with private insurance -- a cost shift that's long been part of the healthcare system. If that happens, fewer healthcare providers will take Medi-Cal patients. Although that's a fine concern, evidence from other states strongly suggests that it won't happen because regulators won't be able to challenge the deals the insurers strike with doctors, hospitals and HMOs. And regardless, it's a concern that should apply to any Californian, not just the ones in whatever district Hernandez runs for in 2012.

-- Jon Healey

Credit: the California Channel website.

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