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Lawmakers introduce proposals to expand Medi-Cal

January 28, 2013 |  4:13 pm

The state Legislature gaveled in a special session on healthcare Monday, with lawmakers introducing measures to help California implement President Obama's healthcare overhaul.

Most Americans face the requirement in January 2014 to buy health insurance or pay a penalty under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Underscoring the importance of the issue, legislative leaders in both houses sponsored bills that would dramatically expand Medi-Cal, the state's public insurance program for the poor. Under the proposals, individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level -- or $15,415 a year -- would be covered, potentially adding more than 1 million Californians to the Medi-Cal rolls.

The federal government would subsidize costs for the first three years, phasing down to 90% after that.

"Ensuring that every Californian has access to quality, affordable healthcare is one of the most important public policy challenges we face," said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) at an afternoon press conference. "No Californian should ever face bankruptcy or severe financial setbacks due to illness and injury."

The legislation would also streamline the Medi-Cal enrollment process to help sign up hundreds of thousands of Californians who are currently eligible but not enrolled. According to a recent study by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, that change could add between 240,000 and 510,000 people to the Medi-Cal rolls by 2019.

Gov. Jerry Brown has earmarked $350 million in his budget proposal to pay for the increased participation. Costs for the currently eligible group will be split evenly between the state and federal governments.

On Monday, as healthcare providers challenged a federal court's decision allowing California to cut Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, Pérez said slashing state costs was necessary. California, he said, lacks the resources to better compensate doctors, hospitals and pharmacists.

"I don't think we're in a situation to make fundamental changes to that given our current budgetary situation," he said.


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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento