State Senate leader backs Medi-Cal expansion
The Democratic leader of the state Senate urged Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday to expand the state's public health system as part of the implementation of the federal healthcare overhaul signed by President Obama in 2010.
Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told reporters Thursday that he looked forward to an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's public insurance system for the poor, during the next year.
In its ruling upholding the federal law earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme court said the federal government could not force states to expand their public insurance programs. In California, the Medi-Cal program already serves about 8 million people, and could serve hundreds of thousands more as insurance coverage is expanded. Expansion of the program would require a bill to pass through the Legislature and receive Brown's signature.
States have the option of making of making insurance available to more people through their public programs or through health benefit exchanges that will be run by either the state or federal government.
The federal Affordable Care Act will allow single adults under the age of 65 to qualify for Medi-Cal for the first time, and will pay the bulk of the costs associated with those new enrollees. The law will allow anyone who earns to 138% of the federal poverty limit -- about $25,000 a year for a family of three -- to qualify for public coverage.
The Brown administration has been tight-lipped about whether it intends to expand the Medi-Cal program. A recent report from a healthcare task force co-chaired by Brown's health and human services director said the expansion would play a key role in improving the state's healthcare system.
But HHS Secretary Diana Dooley said that report should not be interpreted as an administration endorsement of Medi-Cal expansion. Brown is expected to outline his plans when he releases his state budget on Jan. 10.
-- Anthony York in Sacramento
Photo: Sen. Darrell Steinberg, right, and Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: Bryan Patrick