The Legislature today took a major step toward approving a massive expansion of the state’s Medi-Cal program as part of the federal health reform known as the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate and Assembly each passed similar versions of legislation that would extend Medi-Cal benefits to more than 1 million low-income Californians, at least half of whom have no reliable coverage today.
Almost the entire cost of the expansion will at first be reimbursed by the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act. Eventually, California will be required to pay 10 percent of the cost of the care, plus half the administrative costs of the program. By 2020, California would be paying about $600 million while its citizens would be getting an additional $6 billion in health care.
The two bills, though largely similar, will now be sent to the opposite houses for consideration. If there are conflicts, they will eventually be resolved by a conference committee made up of members of both houses.
But with Democrats in control of both houses and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in support, there is little doubt that California will embrace the expansion, which several other states, especially those with Republican governors, say they may turn down.
Under both bills, Medi-Cal eligibility would be extended to all citizens and some legal residents with earnings up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $31,000 for a family of four. The income threshold will be about $15,000 a year for individuals, which is important because childless adults will be the single largest category to benefit from the expansion.
About half the newly eligible are already receiving care provided by the counties under Low Income Health Plans created last year with federal money as part of a transition to the full federal reform. The others today have no regular source of care and are treated either at community clinics or in hospital emergency rooms.
The bills would also make former foster children eligible for Medi-Cal until age 26 and simplify the application process by ending the requirement that recipients provide documentation of their income levels and other background information. Instead, most of this information would be gathered through electronic records by eligibility workers.
The bills are ABX1 1 by Assembly Speaker John Perez and SBX1 1 by Sen. Ed Hernandez.