California Assembly Prioritizes $1 Billion in New Health Care Investments to Improve Access and Affordability

With the support of many California community and consumer advocates, on May 7th, California Assemblymembers endorsed a plan to expand Medi-Cal coverage and increase affordability assistance to those purchasing health plans through Covered California and the individual insurance market, taking a major step towards bringing the state closer to a more universal and affordable health care system.

In a rare action so early in the state budget process, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, chaired by Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, voted to support and prioritize a package worth $1 billion in new health care investments, including:

  • Providing additional affordability assistance for premiums in Covered California for those below 400% of the federal poverty level (incomes of around $48K for an individual and $98K for a family of four);
  • Providing a tax credit so those between 400-600% of the federal poverty level who don’t currently receive a subsidy, don’t have to spent more than a percent of their income when buying coverage;
  • Expanding Medi-Cal to include all income-eligible young adults up to age 26 regardless of immigration status;
  • Undoing the Medi-Cal “senior penalty,” moving eligibility for seniors in full-scope Medi-Cal up from 123% to 138% of the poverty level to align with other adults in the program;
  • Enrolling more low-income Californians in Medi-Cal coverage through express lane eligibility from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

The proposal was unveiled at a press conference earlier in the day with Dr. Arambula along with Assemblymember Jim Wood, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Assemblymember Phil Ting, chair of Assembly Budget Committee, and Assemblymember David Chiu, who served on the Assembly Select Committee on Universal Coverage.

These Assembly leaders stated that this progress towards universal coverage will be a top Assembly priority for funding in the state budget. The pieces of the budget will need to be decided in the next month through negotiations with the Senate and Governor. The Senate has also been considering similar and related proposals advanced by Senator Hernandez (Senate Health Committee Chair), and Senator Lara (Senate Appropriations Committee Chair) as well as consumer and health advocates.

The Assembly action is a significant step toward providing real relief for many Californians struggling with accessing and affording health care. Beyond the specific financial help for hundreds of thousands of Californians, it’s a major downpayment toward the goal of a more universal and affordable health system, in a way that can be advanced without the need for federal approval. California has already made major strides forward by implementing and improving on the Affordable Care Act, and these actions would further fill in the gaps that too many Californians fall through, especially in our high cost state.

The package in many ways mirrors the path toward a more universal, affordable, and accountable health system that was proposed by over 50 organizations in the Care4All California campaign earlier this year. Care4All California coalition leaders continue to advocate for additional or refined policy proposals in the Assembly, the Senate, and other negotiations throughout the next few weeks. In particular, premium affordability assistance in Covered California is also needed for consumers below 200% of the federal poverty level. And while immigrant and health advocates have sought to remove Medi-Cal’s unfair exclusion of undocumented immigrants entirely, another priority population would be older undocumented adults who have more medical needs.