State Briefs

Friday September 27, 2002

Report: Changing conditions could hurt U.S. housing market 

LOS ANGELES — Millions of Americans could see the possibility of home ownership slip away if a delicate balance of interest rates, personal income and real estate prices shifts, an economic report released Thursday said. 

Home prices compared to personal incomes are near record highs, but Americans have been able to keep buying thanks to the lowest mortgage interest rates in 40 years. 

If mortgage rates rise, or housing prices grow faster than incomes, the ability to own a home will disappear for many, according to the Milken Institute, an independent Santa Monica-based think tank. 

An immediate shift is unlikely, said the authors of the study, economists Susanne Trimbath and research analyst Juan Montoya. 

“Since interest rates are not expected to rise in the near future, and income is experiencing strong growth, the demand that supports the current crisis can be expected to remain stable for the near term,” the study said. 

But interest rates will eventually rise and U.S. policy-makers will face a growing challenge as more Americans get shut out of the real estate market, the report said. 

Immigrants urge Davis to sign bill for undocumented drivers 

SAN DIEGO — Immigrants-rights advocates want Gov. Gray Davis to approve a bill that would enable some illegal immigrants to obtain California driver’s licenses though it would not affect most of them. 

Supporters say all California drivers would benefit by allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain the licenses they need to get auto insurance. Others complain it encourages illegal immigration and grants a state privilege to lawbreakers. 

But both sides agree the bill, which faces a deadline of midnight Monday to win Davis’ approval, sets criteria unattainable to most illegal immigrants. It requires them to have a federal taxpayer identification number and have started the process to obtain legal immigration status. 

“This is definitely a high hurdle to meet,” Christian Ramirez, director of American Friends Service Committee, a San Diego group which assists immigrants, said Thursday. “We’re obviously not very happy. ... But we feel this is a step forward.” 

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, estimates as many as 1 million of the roughly 3 million undocumented immigrants in the state would be eligible to apply for licenses. But David Galaviz, Cedillo’s legislative director, acknowledged Thursday the actual number could be far lower. 

Davis signs bill to reduce  

childhood lead poisoning 

SACRAMENTO— Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill on Thursday that makes the presence of lead hazards in homes a violation of the state’s housing law. 

Lead poisoning, which is often caused by exposure to lead-based paint, can lead to serious health problems and lifelong learning disabilities. Lead hazards include deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-tainted soil or dust. 

“Today, California is taking the lead on lead,” Davis said. “Lead is a threat to the health of our children, our most vulnerable citizens.” 

The bill by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, also gives the California Department of Health Services and local health agencies the authority to gather statewide information about lead poisoning and develop strategies for prevention. 

Gov. signs bill helping  

doctors against HMOs 

SACRAMENTO — A new doctors “bill of rights” signed into law Thursday by Gov. Gray Davis will level the playing field between doctors, medical groups and HMOs in contract negotiations, supporters said. 

Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, D-Saratoga, said she brought the bill because “of the imbalance in the relationship between the plans and the providers.” 

Because California was the laboratory for managed care, it’s where the laws regulating the relationship between doctors and HMOs need the most fine-tuning, said Steve Thompson, vice president of the California Medical Association, which represents doctors in California. 

“No other state has the degree of HMO penetration as exists in California,” he said. 

HMOs have ordered doctors to take on additional patients, been lax in payments to physicians and changed contracts without warning, Davis said in a statement. 

“Ultimately, none of this improves patient care,” he said. “In order to provide patients with world-class care, we must ensure our doctors have world-class rights.” 

Supporters, such as the CMA, said the bill will help stem the tide of physicians leaving the state or retiring early because they’re not happy with the working conditions in California. 

Of the 82,000 licensed physicians in California, about 50,000 are practicing, and a “discouraging” number desire early retirement, Thompson said. 

The California Association of Health Plans, which represents HMOs, questioned the CMA’s survey, saying it was based on anecdotes. Walter Zelman, the association’s president, said state medical board figures don’t show a decline in the number of people taking California’s licensing exam. 

“I continue to be concerned by primarily anecdotal information that physicians put out about HMOs overpowering physicians in the marketplace,” Zelman said. He also cites a study by the Medical Group Management Association, an Englewood, Colo.-based trade organization for medical group administrators, that “shows that for the third year in a row, physician income is going up in California.” 

Zelman’s group opposed the original version of Cohn’s bill, but dropped its objections after “onerous and inappropriate” conditions were removed. 

Now, doctors will determine how many patients they can handle and won’t be required by an HMO to add new patients, Cohn said. “When they get patients dumped on them, the waiting times for patients get enormous.” 

The new law also says that any changes in the contract between an HMO and medical group or doctor must be fully disclosed to the doctor before the changes take effect. 

Previously, doctors haven’t always been told of changes in patients’ benefits, said Dr. Ron Bangasser, of Redlands, Calif. 

That’s important “so we know when we talk to a patient what’s covered, what’s not covered, and what we can do with and without prior approval,” he said. 


On the Net: 

Read the bill, AB2907, at www.assembly.ca.gov