Key Senate panel approves Medi-Cal expansion

Emergency-room doctor Philip Schwarzman, left, examines patient John O'Brien at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- A key Senate panel supported legislation Monday that would dramatically expand Medi-Cal, the state’s public insurance program for the poor.

The proposal, authored by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), is part of a legislative package that aims to help California implement President Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

Beginning in January 2014, the federal Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Gov. Jerry Brown has called a special session of the Legislature so that healthcare bills he signs can take effect within 90 days rather than next year.


On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee supported legislation that would expand Medi-Cal coverage to individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level -- or $15,415 a year, potentially adding more than 1 million Californians to the rolls.

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

State Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) raised concerns about the state’s financial liability if Washington alters that agreement. “I’m very concerned about California taxpayers being on the hook,” he said.

Brown has sounded a similar note of caution even as he embraces the federal law. The long-term costs are unknown, he has said, and hold the potential to undermine California’s precariously balanced budget.

Hernandez told his colleagues Monday that the Obama administration was committed to implementing the federal law and has not proposed changing its financial terms.

The bill passed 4-1.


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