CA Governor Newsom’s Health Budget: Key Takeaways: #Health4All & More, Missed Opportunities

Governor Gavin Newsom today unveiled the 2021- 22 May Revision of the state budget, which includes some important investments to improve and expand our health care system, but also missed major opportunities for expansion and improvement. "The pandemic underlined the urgency of fixing the inequities in health care, and this proposed budget makes some important investments to expand and improve our health system, while missing other major opportunities to meet urgent ongoing needs, especially given the size of the surplus," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.
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For Immediate Release: Friday, May 14, 2021

CONTACT:
Anthony Wright, Executive Director, Health Access California, awright@health-access.org, 916-870-4782 (cell)

Yvonne Vasquez, Communication Associate, Health Access California, yvasquez@health-access.org, 916-407-7078 (cell)

GOVERNOR NEWSOM’S INCLUDES EXPANSION OF MEDI-CAL TO OLDER CALIFORNIANS REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS;

BUT MAJOR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE CARE MORE AFFORDABLE & AVAILABLE POST-PANDEMIC

  • The 2021-22 CA budget May Revision announced today by Governor Gavin Newsom makes major investments to expand and improve health care, especially in Medi-Cal.
  • The budget proposal makes a historic step towards #Health4All by removing the exclusion of income-eligible undocumented seniors in Medi-Cal age 60 and over–a group particularly at risk dealing with the pandemic and its aftereffects.
  • At same time, the Governor’s budget proposal would take back over $700 million in state subsidies in Covered California that could have furthered lower premiums and deductibles for hundreds of thousands of Californians.
  • Other missed opportunities include not eliminating the Medi-Cal asset test that excludes some other seniors and people with disabilities, and not further expanding Medi-Cal to get closer to #Health4All, especially for essential workers that bore the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. With the current significant surplus, health and community advocates seek bolder steps to ensure Californians to have access to care and coverage post-pandemic.

SACRAMENTO, CA – Governor Gavin Newsom today unveiled the 2021- 22 May Revision of the state budget, which includes some important investments to improve and expand our health care system, but also missed major opportunities for expansion and improvement.

“The pandemic underlined the urgency of fixing the inequities in health care, and this proposed budget makes some important investments to expand and improve our health system, while missing other major opportunities to meet urgent ongoing needs, especially given the size of the surplus,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition. “The Governor is right to propose to strengthen our health system for everyone by removing the unfair exclusions to Medi-Cal for the undocumented immigrants, especially some of the seniors who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19. We appreciate the improvements in Medi-Cal benefits and services, from coverage of post-partum care, doulas, and community health workers, to the reforms to provide more enhanced and accountable care.”

“This budget recognizes that our health system is better when everyone has access to coverage, including primary and preventative care, and we will continue to advocate with the Legislature to improve access and affordability in both Medi-Cal and Covered California. In Medi-Cal, we will want to further remove counterproductive exclusions, whether from an outdated asset test, or to do more to undo the unjust exclusion based on immigration status, especially for essential workers exposed during this pandemic,” said Wright. “We are disappointed that in this time of surplus, the Governor proposes to reclaim the general fund investment of hundreds of millions of dollars that should go to increasing affordability assistance to further lower premiums and deductibles, especially important on our high cost-of-living state. We hope the Legislature takes the opportunity to take these additional steps to a universal health care system, which we realize is more urgent than ever post-pandemic.”

Prior to the Governor’s May revision, the California Assembly and Senate Budget chairs identified and prioritized many of these proposals, including additional #Health4All expansions of Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status, the removal of the asset test in Medi-Cal, additional affordability assistance in Covered California, and more.

#HEALTH4ALL AND MEDI-CAL: The budget includes Medi-Cal coverage for all income eligible seniors, age 60 and over, regardless of status. While the #Health4All coalition—made up of leading health and immigrant rights organizations across California— praised this step, the recently announced historic budget surplus, along with the continuing pandemic, make it even more urgent and possible to cover all adults, regardless of age or immigration status. Both the Assembly and the Senate highlighted Medi-Cal expansions to more income-eligible undocumented Californians beyond seniors as a top priority in this year’s budget. An expansion for undocumented seniors was included in the Governor’s initial 2020 state budget, but was withdrawn due to a forecasted budget downturn that failed to materialize. In just a year, our state has gone from a budget deficit of tens of billions, to a budget surplus of tens of billions, opening the possibility for getting to Health4All adults in the near future.

“Most of these undocumented seniors have given a lifetime of contribution to California in working, raising families, and paying taxes, yet have been excluded from Medi-Cal coverage despite being the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We certainly feel the urgency to cover the seniors that survived, that may likely have exacerbated medical conditions, along with a broader group of essential workers who were exposed and in need of coverage and care. We will work with our legislative champions to support this request and take further steps to #Health4All. The price tag to simply remove this exclusion entirely is a small percentage of the new surplus.” said Jose Torres Casillas, policy advocate with Health Access California. “We also feel the need of expanding Medi-Cal coverage to more seniors and people with disabilities by eliminating the asset test, which discourages savings and limits the ability for thousands to get the coverage they need. In this pandemic, we learned that our health is dependent on the health and caring of others, including our friends, family members, and those in the community.”

COVERED CALIFORNIA: “The proposed budget takes back over $700 million of dollars in existing state affordability help in Covered California, missing a major opportunity to further reduce premiums or deductibles in Covered California. This reduction in state investment risks raising premiums should federal assistance not be made permanent. California was proud to pilot additional affordability assistance in our health insurance marketplace, but as much as the new federal dollars are welcome, many families need more help in a famously high cost-of-living state. Given our higher costs, Californians need additional assistance beyond any affordability standard set nationwide.” said Diana Douglas, policy advocate with Health Access California. This pandemic showed the problems of leaving people uninsured, or with coverage that leaves people with deductibles of thousands of dollars, discouraging care. We urge the Legislature to look to keep this California commitment to additional affordability assistance. California should once again be a leader by further investing in subsides to help millions of Californians who need more help paying for care in our high-cost-of-living state, and cover more Californians during this pandemic and beyond.”

ADDITIONAL AFFORDABILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: The proposed state budget continues key initiatives on health care costs, quality, and equity. This includes the effort to create a new Office of Health Care Affordability, to confront health care consolidation and set cost-growth targets for all sectors of the industry. “As Californians face an affordability crisis on many fronts, the Office of Health Care Affordability is a bold effort to put in place a comprehensive strategy to contain health care costs, setting enforceable targets for affordability with accountability, and drive innovation in payment and delivery of care while still prioritizing quality and equity,” said Yasmin Peled, policy advocate with Health Access California. Other industry accountability efforts would require health plans to meet goals regarding quality and reducing disparities, through regulation by the Department of Managed Health Care and contracting by Medi-Cal and Covered California.

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