Deal with Governor Still Being Negotiated–Federal Funds and New State Revenues and Taxes Needed to Stop Trigger Cuts
Today the California State Senate and Assembly passed a budget preserving most funding for vital health and human services programs, which are even more important as our state works to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget passed by the California Legislature meets the constitutional deadline for passage, even as negotiations continue with Governor Newsom on a final budget.
Those negotiations show signs that a deal to reject the worst of these health care cuts might be reached, but that would depend on new revenues, from federal funds or new state revenues. If the Governor adopts the Legislature’s version of the budget, it would rely on federal funds to help keep commitments.
Without enough federal funds, the budget would trigger cuts to Medi-Cal that will impact millions and their ability to continue to access coverage and benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for California’s seniors, people with disabilities, and communities of color. Health care advocates continue to call on the Federal Government to step in with aid to help ensure that these cuts are not made, while also calling on state leaders to raise state revenue to ensure that these cuts are not part of budget proposals now and into the future.
The Legislative budget rejects the Governor’s proposed budget cuts to deny coverage to tens of thousands of low-income seniors, and thus would not reinstitute the “senior penalty,” estate recovery, and other eligibility fixes approved in the past several years. The Legislative budget does delay for one year, to January 2022, the expansion of Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors, regardless of immigration status.
Of particular note, the Legislative budget also preserves medically necessary benefits for millions of adults with Medi-Cal coverage, including vision, audiology, podiatry, and some dental, and programs and services, like Community Based Adult Services (CBAS) and Multipurpose Senior Services Programs (MSSP) which help keep seniors and adults with disabilities independent and in their own homes and out of institutionalized care where COVID-19 deaths have been more prevalent.
As we get more information, Health Access is updating its 2020 Budget Scorecard to track specific health care items in the various state budget proposals.
No legislator wants to vote to make cuts to health care programs serving seniors, people with disabilities, and communities of color, especially in the middle of a pandemic that is particularly targeting these populations. We are glad the Legislature is fighting to preserve these health and other vital programs, while negotiating with the Governor over better budget solutions. The cuts would make California less able to help families connect with needed care and coverage, hinder economic recovery from the pandemic, and exacerbate long-standing racial and other inequities. California will ultimately need both federal funds and additional state revenues to sustain these essential services, including health care and coverage for millions. Our California legislators have appropriately prioritized protecting our health care system and safety net from cuts that are not only cruel but counterproductive in helping us get out of this economic and public health crisis. We now need them to raise the revenue to make these health services sustainable.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH GOVERNOR
It would be good news if the proposed cuts to deny health coverage for low-income seniors were taken off the table, but other cuts limit benefits and access to care for millions on Medi-Cal. None of these cuts are truly rejected unless they are replaced with the revenues needed to sustain these programs not just this year but into the future.
As the Health Access Budget Scorecard shows, the Legislative budget does make some cuts, including delaying a proposed expansion of Medi-Cal, and reducing the allocation for affordability assistance in Covered California, which could have been used to further lower premiums for the growing number of people purchasing health care as individuals during the economic crisis.
The millions of Californians who have lost their jobs and coverage recently should be better protected in a pandemic. Folks losing coverage should have access to Medi-Cal, or be shielded from the sticker shock of high premiums when having to buy coverage as an individual. During this coronavirus, we need to invest more, not less, to connect more Californians with coverage and care. Our undocumented seniors, who have made a lifetime of contributions to California, can’t wait another year and a half for coverage. Now more than ever, we must be expanding access to affordable health care, not cutting or delaying coverage.
As active as we have been in advocating for necessary federal funds, we recognize that even with that help California will need new revenue to prevent these cuts to health, education, and other vital services. We need real, systematic change to our budget and tax structure that puts more onus on the wealthy, who have benefited during the pandemic, to invest in our struggling communities and improve equity in public programs and systems. Our leaders must take a stance with their votes, tackling head on the systemic inequality oppressing Black and brown people, and funding bold changes to lift our communities.
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