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Key Senate panel to consider Medi-Cal expansion

February 27, 2013|By Michael J. Mishak
  • Emergency room doctor Philip Schwarzman, left, examines patient John O'Brien at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
Emergency room doctor Philip Schwarzman, left, examines patient John… (Katie Falkenberg / For The…)

SACRAMENTO -- A key Senate panel will consider legislation Wednesday 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 healthcare bills that he signs can take effect within 90 days rather than next year.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee is set to consider 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.

The legislation, SBX1 1, 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.

Brown has sounded a 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.


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