May 2018 Newsletter

May 1, 2018

A Note from Toni


Addressing the Senate Health Comittee
Addressing the Senate Health Committee on April 25.


Imagine you’ve recently given birth to your first child. You don’t earn a lot of money, so you rely on Medi-Cal, California’s safety-net health-insurance program, and you get your healthcare at a community health center. The baby won’t stop crying, and the stress and lack of sleep are fraying your last nerve. You’re really struggling.

You see your doctor during a regular health visit, and you tell her about all the difficulties you’re experiencing. She thinks it would help for you to talk with a therapist -- today.

You’re eligible to receive California’s safety-net benefits, so the health center can bill Medi-Cal for your regular visit. The problem is, it can’t do the same for a mental-health visit when it happens the same day.

So, the health center has two choices: It can make sure you see a therapist today, meaning it must absorb the additional cost for those services, or it can schedule an appointment for another day, delaying the treatment and risking the possibility that you’ll cancel it because you can’t get the time off work, or for myriad other reasons. But your struggles might worsen without intervention.

Or, imagine you suffer from chronic disease and you’re at the health center for a checkup. You tell your doctor how you feel, and eventually you reveal that you’re depressed and you think about just ending the pain -- both the physical and the emotional -- once and for all. There’s no choice here: The health center will try to get you to a therapist right away, but it will have to absorb the cost.

These scenarios are realities for many Californians. They are similar to encounters I had with people back when I worked in community health clinics -- I know these situations firsthand.

There’s no reason it has to be like this. If health centers can bill Medi-Cal for a mental-health visit tomorrow, why can’t it bill for a visit today?

California allows health centers to bill for primary care and a dentist appointment on the same day -- why not mental health, too? What’s more, the federal Medicare program allows for same-day billing of behavioral health and medical services -- Medi-Cal should too, as well.

Working with the Steinberg Institute and CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates, I have introduced Senate Bill 1125 to fill this hole in the system. It will require the state to allow Medi-Cal to reimburse federally qualified health centers for primary-care and mental-health visits that occur on the same day.

There are more than 1,300 community health centers in California that provide comprehensive, high-quality care to 6.5 million people. That’s one in six Californians. The vast majority of the patients served by community health centers lives at or below the poverty line, and a substantial share are uninsured or enrolled in Medi-Cal.

The good news is that we have broken down some of the stigma associated with emotional challenges and mental illness, and people are increasingly open to treatment, meaning there is a growing need. SB 1125 will allow health centers to hire more mental-health professionals to meet this demand.

The bill also works hand-in-hand with AB 1863. Signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016, AB 1863 allowed Medi-Cal to be billed for counseling services provided by licensed marriage-and-family therapists, and not just clinical social workers and psychologists, increasing the supply of service providers.

Health centers must be able to seamlessly provide same-day treatment for both physical and mental health -- and be compensated for the full spectrum of care they’re providing. It’s only fair. SB 1125 will accomplish this.

I was pleased when SB 1125 passed the Senate Health Committee in late April and look forward to working with my colleagues in the full Senate, as well as the Assembly and the Governor, to ensure that this important measure becomes law.


An Update on my Legislation

In 2017, the first year of the current two-year session, Governor Jerry Brown signed all 12 of my bills that were sent to him by the Legislature. Here is a rundown of the legislation I have introduced in 2018:

SB 945: In 2016, Governor Brown signed my bill AB 1795, providing uninsured and underinsured Californians with expanded access to treatment for breast cancer and cervical cancer. SB 945 builds on AB 1795 by removing arbitrary time limits for care. Currently, the state Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program stops providing medical care for breast cancer after 18 months and cervical cancer after 24 months, regardless of medical need. SB 945 removes those limits and requires continuation of treatment as long as necessary. SB 945 cleared the Senate Health Committee in April.

SB 970: Hotels and motels are ground zero for human traffickers, which means they’re hiding their criminal activities in plain sight. SB 970 will require all hotels and motels in California to provide training for their employees on how to spot the signs of human trafficking and report those signs to law enforcement. SB 970 cleared the Senate Labor and Judiciary committees in April.

SB 1005: Sometimes, survivors of domestic abuse who must flee their home to get away from their abuser can’t afford the extra rent or deposit required to move their dog or cat into a new apartment. SB 1005 makes explicitly clear that survivors of violent crimes, such as domestic violence, may use state-provided victim-relocation funds to which they are already entitled to pay for expenses related to housing an animal companion. SB 1005 cleared the Senate Public Safety and Appropriations committees, and then passed on the Senate floor, in April. It’s now on its way to the Assembly.

SB 1086: Thanks to AB 1035, passed in 2014, if a public-safety officer dies from a job-related illness more than 240 weeks after being diagnosed, his or her family can still qualify for state-provided survivor death benefits. The bill stretched that statute of limitations to 420 weeks. However, AB 1035 is scheduled to sunset in 2019. My bill, SB 1086, removes the sunset and makes the 420-week limit permanent. A police officer or firefighter’s family should not have to suffer because she or he lived too long. SB 1086 cleared the Senate Labor and Appropriations committees in April.

SB 1125: Currently, if a patient receives treatment through Medi-Cal at a community health center from both a medical provider and a mental-health specialist on the same day, the state will reimburse the center for only one visit. A patient must seek mental-health treatment on a subsequent day in order for that treatment to be reimbursed as a second visit. There’s no good reason for that. SB 1125 allows health centers to bill Medi-Cal for both visits, even if they occur on the same day. This change will ensure that more people get the mental-health services they need. SB 1125 cleared the Senate Health Committee in April.

SB 1367: This bill follows up on two of my previous bills – AB 392, which made the San Diego River Conservancy permanent, and SB 214, which strengthened the conservancy’s capacity to protect and enhance the San Diego River watershed. SB 1367 gives the San Diego River Conservancy the power to help protect and enhance other nearby rivers – the Otay, Sweetwater, and Tijuana rivers – and their watersheds by helping identify and pursue funding sources, developing strategic plans, and working with local nonprofits and government agencies. SB 1367 cleared the Senate Natural Resources Committee in April.


A San Diego Swearing-In Celebration

It was a special day on April 13 – for me and for our city – when I used my swearing-in as the new Senate President Pro Tempore as an opportunity to celebrate San Diego.

Hundreds of civic-minded San Diegans attended the event at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. They heard wonderful words from former Senator Christine Kehoe, Senator Ben Hueso, Assemblymember Shirley Weber and labor leader Doug Moore, and watched as Judge Paula Rosenstein administered the oath of office.

When it was my turn to speak, I talked about all the ways in which San Diego is a microcosm of California. With San Diego’s role in tourism, high technology, innovation, small business, national defense, agriculture, higher education, cross-border cooperation, and with our incredible human diversity – in many ways, we power our state forward. In short, the San Diego story is the California story.

Jennifer and I at the Swearing-In Ceremony
Even Jennifer had to laugh at a story Assemblymember Shirley Weber told about me chasing after a coyote that had snatched a small dog.

Judge Paula Rosenstein
The person I’ve known the longest in San Diego, Judge Paula Rosenstein, administered the oath of office.

San Diego Girl Scouts
San Diego Girl Scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Telling the Story of San Diego
Telling the story of San Diego.

Swearing-In Ceremony
All of the people who played important roles in the ceremony.

Toni Atkins and former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer
I was thrilled and honored to have former U.S. Senator and honorary San Diegan Barbara Boxer join us for the celebration.

San Diego City Council
A few of my former staff members during my days on the San Diego City Council.

Toni Atkins and Mrs. Betty Peabody
With the grand dame of Balboa Park, Mrs. Betty Peabody.

Toni Atkins and Karen and Tim Manley with Christine Kehoe
Longtime City Heights residents Karen and Tim Manley, with my mentor, former state Senator Christine Kehoe.

June 5 is Election Day

The June 5 primary election is coming right around the corner, and here are some important dates to keep in mind:

The vote-by-mail ballot-mailing period runs from May 7 through 29; you can request a mail ballot up until May 29. If you’re not registered to vote at your current address, the deadline to do so is May 21. New citizens who are sworn in by May 21, 2018, may register to vote from May 22 through Election Day, June 5.

For information on all the measures and candidates on the ballot, please visit the websites of the California Secretary of State and the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.

I encourage all my registered constituents to participate and make their voices heard!

Lower Energy Bills, New Medicare Cards and Dialing for Area Codes

Did you notice that your SDG&E bill was much lower in April? That’s because twice a year, utility customers receive what’s known as the California Climate Credit. The credit is from a state program that requires power plants and other large industries that emit greenhouse gases to buy carbon-pollution permits.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, “Households and small businesses are receiving the Climate Credit to protect them from cost increases and to give people additional opportunities to take advantage of energy and money-saving upgrades that also help fight climate change.”

Residential customers each receive $33.50 in April and October. Small business’ credits vary depending on electricity rates and how much electricity they use.

Also, if you’re enrolled in Medicare, be on the lookout for a new card in your mailbox. This is because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is required to remove social security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019. Instead, each new card will contain a new unique Medicare number. CMS began mailing new cards last month. You can get information about the mailings and sign up for emails about the status of card mailings in your area by visiting

Finally, starting May 19, San Diegans will be required to dial the area code before the seven-digit number when making local calls to the 619 and 858 areas of the region. This change is to help the Public Utilities Commission delay running out of phone numbers in our area.


My Staff at Your Service

My district staff is always available to help constituents navigate a complex web of state agencies. If you’re having trouble working out an issue with any state agency, please call my office at 619-645-3133, and my staff will do everything in their power to help.

My District Staff
Pamela Ison: District Director
Deanna Spehn: Policy Director
Jason Weisz: Senior Field Representative
Toni Duran: Field Representative
Chevelle Tate: Field Representative
Ryan Trabuco: Scheduler / Field Representative
David Rolland: Communications Director

Where to Find Me Online
Twitter: @SenToniAtkins


My district office is located at 1350 Front St., Room 4061, San Diego, CA 92101.

Around the District

San Diego LGBTQ community
Celebrating my swearing-in as the new Senate President pro Tem with San Diego's LGBTQ community.


Women and Girls Annual Symposium
Delivering the keynote speech on homelessness, human trafficking and domestic violence at the San Diego Commission on the Status of Women and Girls annual symposium.


Toni Atkins with Diane Takvorian
With the great Diane Takvorian at the Environmental Health Coalition's annual awards event, celebrating our environmental-justice champions.


Young Professionals Council Academy
I love talking with the new class of the Young Professionals Council Academy every year.


Toni Atkins and Christine Kehoe
Former state Senator Christine Kehoe and I enjoyed the San Diego History Center's 90th anniversary celebration.


Jewish Family Service's Heart and Soul Centennial Gala
With civic leaders Linda and Mel Katz at Jewish Family Service's Heart and Soul Centennial Gala. The Katzes and JFS do so much for the community.

Assemblymembers Todd Gloria and Dr. Shirley Weber
With Assemblymembers Todd Gloria and Dr. Shirley Weber and Dr. Helen Griffiths, executive director and CEO of E3 Civic High School, at the San Diego Women Inc. luncheon.