The California State Assembly Democrats unveiled their updated 2021-2022 Budget of Opportunity, which comes on the heels of last week’s announcement from California State Senate Democrats of their Build Back Bolder budget outline. Both budget blueprints aligned on a number of key health care priorities, going above and beyond Governor Newsom’s January 2021 budget proposal, and would take major steps to close the remaining gaps in the uninsured, by eliminating barriers to needed coverage and care. Ultimately, the budget proposals by the Senate and Assembly will get our state closer than ever to our goal of universal health care coverage.
These legislative budget proposals would expand access and affordability for hundreds of thousands of Californians seeking coverage and care, and get our state closer to a universal health system for all. These health proposals would provide urgent help to California families, particularly for older Californians that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. We applaud our legislative leaders of the Budget Committees for appropriately making health care a central plank of our state’s recovery from this public health and economic crisis.
Both the Assembly and the Senate highlighted Medi-Cal expansions to more income-eligible undocumented Californians as a top priority. This proposal was included in Governor Newsom’s January 2020 budget proposal, but was withdrawn due to a forecasted budget downturn that failed to materialize. Health and immigrant groups have been advocating for these expansions, starting with older Californians, as they are the most vulnerable population currently excluded from public coverage programs, and have been particularly at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With all the health issues raised by the pandemic, the time is now to remove unfair exclusions to care in Medi-Cal based simply on where you were born. This public health crisis has only highlighted what we’ve long known – our health care system is stronger when everyone has access to comprehensive health care, and able to get the primary and preventative care they need. We urge Governor Newsom to make this vital investment in the health of our communities, to help us get out of this pandemic and create a better and more equitable health care system moving forward.
Another investment prioritized by the state Senate and Assembly, but not included in the Governor’s January proposal, is the effort to improve affordability in Covered California. While President Biden’s American Rescue Plan made some historic investments to bring down premiums for those who purchase care on their own, many Californians still cannot afford care in our high-cost of living state. Many cost barriers remain including high deductibles and other out-of-pocket cost sharing. By redirecting the affordability assistance California invested for premiums two years ago, we can lower these costs and attract more Californians into coverage.
The out-of-pocket costs to consumers in our health care system remains a huge barrier to care, particularly in an expensive state like California where many have to choose between paying housing, food, and health care bills each month,” said Wright. “If we can redirect our existing state subsidies, reduce or even eliminate deductibles, and lower other cost-sharing, more Californians will be able to afford care and will seek the care they need without fear that they can’t pay the bill. Just as Governor Newsom led by piloting additional affordability assistance in Covered California, which lead to the new federal premium help across the country, California can again lead the nation on the issue of lowering deductibles and cost-sharing.
MEDI-CAL ASSETS TEST
Lastly, the Senate and Assembly both highlight the importance of eliminating the assets test in Medi-Cal that has for too long prevented some seniors from accessing Medi-Cal for having a small amount of savings. The proposal, also pending as SB 470 (Carillo), would expand access for seniors and people with disabilities, and allow them to have savings needed to deal with housing and other needs and emergencies.
Health care advocates praise the legislature for highlighting these health care priorities, and now look to the Governor’s May Revise to include these key investments as well, along with those the Governor has already committed to in the January budget, such as Cal-AIM reforms, improved vaccine distribution efforts, expanded Medi-Cal benefits, and creating a new Office of Health Care Affordability.
Health Access Factsheet: Expanding Affordability Assistance in Covered California