California officials who said they'd push forward with health care reform no matter what the Supreme Court ruled are pushing today with much less resistance after the Affordable Care Act rulings announced yesterday.
Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said he was "surprisingly excited. We can take a deep breath now that we don't have to worry about Californians having access to health care." He admits, however, there is much more that California needs to do before 2014.
"The ruling establishes a legal foundation for our vision," said Hernandez's counterpart in the Assembly, Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health and is a strong advocate of preventive care.
California HHS Secretary Diana Dooley said the state can't afford to sit back and relish the victory without looking forward. "We need to be ready to enroll Californians in private or public insurance plans by October 2013, which means setting eligibility requirements, establishing criteria for provider networks, developing insurance products and building an information technology system to support eligibility and enrollment," she said.
Yesterday's ruling ensures that major provisions of the ACA, such as expanding coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime caps and affording children up to age 26 the opportunity to stay on their parent's insurance plans, remain intact. The law will provide health care coverage to four to five million newly insured Californians.
When the reform law is fully implemented in 2019, officials estimate Medi-Cal -- California's Medicaid program -- will cover between 9 million and 10 million people -- one to two million more Californians than the current total of 7.5 million.
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, praised the ACA decision, saying the state had a lot at stake.
If the entire law had been struck down, Wright said California would have moved forward but without the strong backing of a federal framework and financing. Cutting out just the individual mandate would still leave the health care system "fixable," he said, but "now we can move full speed ahead without any distractions."
Republican Assembly member Dan Logue of Chico said he plans to continue his efforts to put a ballot measure before voters to stop the implementation of the ACA in California. He also has introduced a resolution requesting that the President and Congress repeal ACA.
Logue said he will continue to oppose the law that he fears will lead to higher health care costs for families and businesses, less employer-sponsored coverage and disruption of the physician/patient relationship by adding more layers of bureaucracy.
Democratic legislators predicted efforts to repeal or roadblock the reform in California would not succeed. Monning said the action would represent "sour grapes, be partisan and not succeed in the legislature nor be supported by the American people."
(David Gorn is on vacation.)