Ambitious Health Reform Package Needs $1 Billion From California

Rich Pedroncelli / AP PhotoFILE - In this Feb. 12, 2015 file photo Laura San Nicolas, right, and her daughter Geena, wait to meet with an enrollment counselor to sign up for health insurance at Sacramento Covered in Sacramento, Calif.

An Assembly subcommittee has voted to ask Gov. Jerry Brown for $1 billion from the state’s budget surplus to help make health care more affordable for low-income Californians.

The plan lines up with a package of bills announced by Assembly members this year. They want to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults, as well as to low-income women and children. They also hope to launch an insurance payment database, increase the number of doctors in rural areas and provide more financial assistance to Covered California customers.

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting said health care will have to compete with other budget priorities such as housing, employment and higher education.

“Like anything, it’s a proposal, it doesn’t get us all the way there,” he said. “We are going to be advocating for it.”

During a vote among the Assembly Budget Subcommittee 1 on Monday, two lawmakers voiced dissenting opinions about the proposal. Assemblymember Devon Mathis opted not to vote, and Assemblymember Matthew Harper voted against moving it forward. Both lawmakers are Republican.

“This is obviously an issue that divides the state of California - there are plenty of folks that have different opinions on this issue,” Harper said. “We owe it to the public to listen to all California viewpoints before we proceed with the vote.”

H.D. Palmer with the California Department of Finance pointed out that the governor has historically supported Medi-Cal expansion. He said any changes to the health care budget that Brown released in January will come out in the revision later this month.

“It’s very clear that we’ve made significant strides over the last eight years in expanding health care in California,” Palmer said.

Roughly 4 million Californians gained Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and 1.3 million people are now enrolled in Covered California, the individual marketplace created by Obamacare.

About half of the budget proposed by the Assembly would provide premium assistance and tax credits for Covered California enrollees. One quarter would extend Medi-Cal eligibility to undocumented adults age 19 to 25. Undocumented children became eligible in 2016.

The proposal comes after continued debate about how to improve the health care system. A special Assembly health committee met earlier this year to look at single payer, universal coverage and other models.

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