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California Democrats' single-payer health care plan passes first hurdle

Melody Gutierrez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

"I passionately reject the argument that if one doesn't believe this is the way to reform our broken health insurance and health care delivery systems that you support the status quo," said Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). "For those who make that intellectually lazy argument, you're not helping those of us who are fighting to improve the system in our democracy."

Kalra's legislation and Newsom's proposed health care expansion for those living in the country illegally have been competing for attention over the past two days, but the measures are largely supported by the same advocacy groups, raising questions about whether they would move forward in tandem or be pitted against each other.

"I don't think these are mutually exclusive or competing conversations," said Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access. "These are all reinforcing and building on one another. I think it's important to have the vision of getting to a truly universal and unified system, but I also think it's important to take tangible steps, urgent steps, so that we can get people help now."

Newsom's plan, which was released as part of his budget proposal Monday, would allow those whose income falls below the federal poverty line to qualify for the state's health care program for low-income people, regardless of immigration status. Extending coverage to people living in the country illegally has long been a priority for Democratic lawmakers in California, who first chipped away at eligibility hurdles in 2016 when the state offered Medi-Cal to children regardless of immigration status.

"We have the prospect to do something historic and meaningful and we hope to see this replicated across the country," Newsom said Tuesday while visiting the Central Valley to highlight his proposal.

But the governor has faced questions about his commitment to single-payer since Democrats said they would push the measure again this year. Newsom, who campaigned four years ago on implementing single-payer health care, said he remains committed to the goal and is awaiting a report by the state's Healthy California for All Commission detailing different models the state could pursue.

 

"We want to do it in a practical way," Newsom said. "We want to do it in a thoughtful way ... meanwhile we're not waiting, we're leaning in, providing more coverage."

California already offers Medi-Cal to immigrants without legal status who are under 26 years old, while those who are 50 and older will qualify beginning in May.

Currently, immigrants without legal status who meet the income threshold — making less than $36,156 a year for a family of four — and are between 26 and 49 years old qualify for scaled-back Medi-Cal coverage, which covers only emergency room and pregnancy-related care. Under Newsom's plan, the income eligibility threshold would instead qualify those insured for full-scope coverage, allowing for preventive care that could prevent costly medical conditions that would have otherwise been treated in emergency rooms.

If approved by the Legislature and signed by Newsom in June, the budget proposal will cost $613.5 million in state funds during the current fiscal year and $2.2 billion each year after when fully implemented in 2024. The state's overall Medi-Cal budget is $132.7 billion, with the program covering approximately 14 million Californians.

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