California lawmakers set to tackle healthcare expansion

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State lawmakers are set to introduce a series of proposals Monday to help California implement President Obama’s healthcare overhaul, including a major expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s public insurance program for the poor.

Gov. Jerry Brown called for the special legislative session in his State of the State speech Thursday to pave the way for implementation next year of the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans who do not already have coverage to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.


One of the most significant bills will be a proposal to 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. Brown has earmarked $350 million in his budget proposal to pay for the increased participation.

Lawmakers will also propose a larger expansion of Medi-Cal, to cover individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level -- or $15,415 a year. The federal government would subsidize costs for the first three years, phasing down to 90% after that. Healthcare analysts say more than 1.4 million Californians could be newly eligible under the change.

In his speech Thursday, Brown called the broader expansion ‘incredibly complex,’ saying ‘it will take more time’ to achieve than other parts of the healthcare overhaul. At issue is whether the program would be run by the state or the counties.

The Legislature will also consider a series of rules to clear the way for enrollment in a new state-run insurance market this fall, including a requirement that insurers cover customers who have preexisting medical conditions.


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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento