New Legislative Session, New Momentum for #Health4All: SB4!

Thursday, December 4, 2014


* Senator Ricardo Lara introduces SB4, with #Health4All intent language similar to last session’s SB1005 to extend coverage to remaining uninsured regardless of immigration status, in state-only Medi-Cal or a Covered California-like “mirror marketplace.” New momentum after President Obama’s immigration actions, which expands “deferred action” status to protect some undocumented immigrants from deportation–which California has long history and current policy of covering with state-funded Medi-Cal.

* Assemblyman Rob Bonta named the new chair of Assembly Health Committee, has also committed his support for #Health4All; Chairs of key Assembly fiscal committees include Assemblywoman Shirley Weber for Assembly Budget Committee and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, for the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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On Monday, as California state legislators reconvened for a new two-year legislative session, Senator Ricardo Lara (Los Angeles) reintroduced a bill to extend help for affording coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status.

NEW BILL NUMBER: The bill, SB4(Lara), has the intent language of the previous session’s SB1005, which was to expand state-funded Medi-Cal for Californians under 138% (and children under 288%) of the federal poverty level, and create a “mirror marketplace” to offer the same plans and subsidies that Covered California offer for those above that income threshold. Health care, immigrant rights and community groups have rallied in favor of this approach, which passed the Senate Health Committee in the last legislative session.

PRESIDENT’S IMMIGRATION ACTIONS & CALIFORNIA HEALTH IMPACT: This approach has not just a new bill number but new momentum, after President Obama’s recent immigration announcement two weeks ago, which provides relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of Californians. While the President’s order excludes these immigrants with “deferred action” status from federal health programs, California has a proud history and long-standing current policy to cover those immigrants with “deferred action” status who are at or below the poverty level in state-only Medi-Cal. California had recently already re-affirmed that “DREAM Act,” or DACA youth, were eligible for Medi-Cal if they met the income requirements, and the President’s order simply expands these categories, and thus those covered by Medi-Cal. This coverage won’t kick in immediately, since the process to get “deferred action” is being set-up by the federal government, but state policymakers would not need to take any additional action beyond existing policy.

In short, the President’s action not only reaffirms the notion that immigrants are important parts of our society and economy, it opens up California’s existing programs to provide additional help to the undocumented community, and creates momentum (and makes it cheaper) for the taking the additional step to cover all the remaining uninsured.

NEW ASSEMBLY CHAIRS: One notable and vocal supporter of the #Health4All campaign was Assemblyman Rob Bonta (Alameda), who is the new chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

Other relevant chairs named yesterday were of key fiscal committees: Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (Los Angeles) will chair the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (San Diego) will chair the Assembly Budget Committee, promoted from last year chairing the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services–which will now be chaired by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (Alameda). Health advocates look forward to working with all these members on a range of issues over the next few years.

OTHER NEW EFFORTS OF NOTE: Health advocates are gearing up for other efforts as well. Another bill introduced Monday was SB33(Hernandez), to limit Medi-Cal estate recovery to long-term care. This revisits a bill topic vetoed last year, but which has been prioritized by numerous consumer and community groups, and will be pursued vigorously as a bill and in the budget process.

Also two weeks ago, several health, labor, health industry, and community groups joined forces to announce a campaign to save lives and prevent cancer by increasing California’s tobacco tax, now just 33rd in the nation, by $2–and using the money to increase funding and access in Medi-Cal, as well as cancer research, tobacco education and prevention, etc. The effort sought to win this increase either through the legislature, or on the 2016 ballot.

This winter, health care stakeholders are meeting in numerous workgroups around a new Medicaid waiver, which would determine the overall structure and financing for Medi-Cal for the next five years. This will also be a major focus for next year; We’ll post more information on the goals and the progress in a future update.