Calif. lawmakers introduce bills to tackle Medi-Cal expansion, but not cost of expanding health care

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State lawmakers gaveled in a special session Monday in Sacramento to work on plans to adopt new federal health care changes in California.  

The changes include adding more people to Medi-Cal – the federally-funded health care program for low-income residents.

Medi-Cal – California’s version of the federal government’s Medicaid program – provides care to 8 million low-income residents. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, California can choose to expand the program to include 1 million more people.

At a news conference announcing the introduction of his legislation (AB 1X) to expand Medi-Cal, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) told reporters that Medi-Cal expansion is a must. 

“Ensuring that every Californian has access to quality, affordable health care is one of the most important policy challenges we face,” said Perez.

His legislation would allow anyone who earns up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to apply for Medi-Cal enrollment.

The bill would also simplify Medi-Cal paperwork and allow foster care youth to stay on Medi-Cal until they turn 26.

As for the cost of adding more people to Medi-Cal, Speaker Perez says his bill doesn’t deal with that because no one yet knows what the cost will be.

“It really depends on how quickly we move people into coverage and then what people’s utilization rates are," said Perez. "That is a completely unpredictable number at this point.”

Perez said that’s why the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the tab for the first three years. California will have that time to figure out what Medi-Cal expansion costs are and how to pay them. After three years, the state government is on the hook to pick up 10 percent of Medi-Cal expansion’s cost.

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed to offset the cost by holding onto some of the money the state gives to counties to care for the poor. Counties will push back on that one. They must treat anyone who can't afford health insurance.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced companion legislation (SB 1X) on Monday.

"Expanding health care coverage brings stability to California's wider economy, especially young adults, the Latino community, and the self-employed," Steinberg said. "No illness should force financial devastation on individuals or their families. Limiting access to routine checkups often leads to severe sickness, expensive treatment, and even greater distress for families."

Bills passed in special session on health care take effect within 90 days.

California lawmakers want to make sure Medi-Cal expansion occurs in plenty of time for people to enroll by January 1, 2014. That's the federal Affordable Care Act's deadline for most Americans to have health insurance.

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