After one year in state office, California Assemblywoman
Melissa Melendez says she is looking forward to lawmaking in 2014 on behalf of
her constituents in Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Murrieta, Canyon Lake, Menifee, and
other local jurisdictions.
Among her top things to do in the year ahead, she said, is investigating whether Covered California violated any laws when it released consumer information to insurance agents.
News of the data release broke late last year. The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 6 that Covered California gave insurance agents the names, addresses, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of thousands of consumers who may have preferred their information remain private.
In the Times story, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, reportedly said the action by the state exchange complied with privacy laws and was reviewed by legal counsel.
Speaking by phone Friday, Covered California information officer Sarah Sol said to her knowledge no restraining order was received.
Covered California stems from the 2010 federal law called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as Obamacare – which calls for healthcare coverage for all Americans. The state exchange allows consumers to go online and shop for healthcare insurance.
California and Obamacare have been a partisan issue, but Melendez said that argument is
water under the bridge.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she said of the release of private information, saying both sides of the aisle in Sacramento are concerned about the matter. Melendez said Obamacare is here and “we have to live with it,” but she bristled at the release of personal data by the state.
Speaking from district office in Murrieta, Melendez explained Friday she has asked the state to look into the matter further, and if laws were broken she wants to see a “swift” remedy. The Assemblywoman said she would work with fellow lawmakers to bring legislation forward on the issue, depending on how the legal experts weigh in.
“We are in favor of keeping consumer information private,” Sol said Friday in response. She maintained that the release of information occurred in early December. Consumers who went online to the Covered California website -- but never completed the sign-up process -- had their information captured, Sol said.
From there, the consumers were contacted by Covered California’s “certified partners,” Sol continued, noting that partners are required to undergo testing, fingerprinting and criminal background checks. The purpose of the contact by the partners was to make sure consumers who started the sign-up but never finished “didn’t fall through the cracks,” she said.
“No medical information or social security numbers were handed out,” Sol added, and she noted that to her knowledge there has been no litigation filed over the matter.
As Melendez continues her inquiry into Covered California, she is also eyeing other top priorities in the coming year, including bringing back a bill that died in committee during 2013. Melendez’s AB 939 was introduced last spring and it “encouraged” public schools to have and maintain Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) on their campuses. AEDs are used to resuscitate patients who go into cardiac arrest. Melendez, a 45-year-old mother of five, said she’s bewildered by the lack of support for the bill, and feels if the legislation were passed the law could save young lives.
“As a parent, I don’t understand why one wouldn’t want this.”
According to Melendez, the bill would not mandate that schools purchase the AEDs but rather education officials should be willing to accept the devices if donated.
“There are companies willing to donate,” she said.Pushback on AB 939 has come from the California Federation of Teachers. Writing in opposition to the legislation, the CFT stated it was "particularly concerned that educators are being asked to provide health treatment that is far beyond their scope of education, training and general job responsibilities.”
Melendez said she will work with teachers and make changes to the bill in an effort to pass the legislation during 2014.
“I am very tenacious,” she added.
Other top priorities for the Assemblywoman include working to bring back Vehicle License Fee revenues to Wildomar, Menifee, Eastvale, and Jurupa Valley. In June 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on a budget package that included SB 89, a bill that cut the VLF revenue stream from local cities and directed it to the state. The hit was particularly tough on the four new Riverside County cities, especially Jurupa Valley, which will likely file paperwork this month to start its disincorporation process.
Wildomar has not counted on seeing its nearly $1.8 million in VLF revenues returned, but city officials have not given up hope that a Senate bill – SB 69, which would return the revenues – might pass.
Melendez also wants to sit down with Gov. Jerry Brown this year to see what adjustments can be brokered to ease the stresses of realignment. In 2011 California lawmakers passed AB 109 – otherwise known as realignment -- by a partisan vote, with Democrats voting for and Republicans against. The legislation was designed to address a federal court mandate that California reduce its state prison overcrowding. AB 109 helped relieve the prison overload by "realigning" inmates from those state institutions into local county jails. To help counties absorb the housing costs, an allotment of state dollars gets handed out.
Melendez is concerned that Riverside County is getting short-changed on the deal.
“The funding formula could use some tweaks,” she said.
Melendez also praised Brown on his 2014-15 draft budget that was released Thursday, saying she was happy to see no new taxes and a commitment to pay down debt. She also applauded the governor’s pledge to spend more on education, although she added a pinch of criticism.
“I would like to see a little more local control,” she said of the education spending. “Nothing bad can come from that.”
Melendez said she has a host of other concerns for 2014 brought forward by constituents, but said she has yet to fully analyze the issues surrounding them.
She encouraged constituents to continue contacting her.
“You have good ideas, so bring them to me.”