The state Senate Committee on Appropriations endorsed a bill expanding Medi-Cal eligibility to 1.4 million Californians and to simplify the enrollment process for all Medi-Cal beneficiaries.
The special session approval Monday means SBX1-1 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) is headed to the Senate floor as soon as the end of this week. The Assembly version of the legislation -- ABX1-1 by John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) -- won committee approval last week is pending a floor vote now.
"This is very important because we want to make sure we get as many individuals with coverage so they don't utilize the system the way they utilize it now -- which is, those who don't have insurance would go to the emergency rooms," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said there are three main points of the bill:
- It would expand Medi-Cal coverage to 1.4 million California adults with incomes up to 138% of federal poverty level. "It's important to point out these benefit costs are 100% federally funded for the first three years," Hernandez said. "And that will eventually decline to 90% federal funding by the year 2020 -- unlike now, where there's a 50-50 [federal] match."
- Newly eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries would receive the state's essential health benefit package.
- "Lastly, the bill would modernize and simplify the current paper-based enrollment process, to make it easier for people to have access to health coverage," Hernandez said.
The simplified eligibility and enrollment rules are music to the ears of Cathy Senderling, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California.
"We have a very complex and confusing Medi-Cal system today," Senderling said. "I often refer to it as the paper chase -- collecting a lot of information and paper from people about their assets and verifying their assets. And our workers and our directors are very excited about cutting out some of that."
The amount of federal money available makes adoption of the optional expansion imperative, said Vanessa Cajina, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
"This could bring in $4 billion to $5 billion in federal funds in one year alone," Cajina said. "It is so important we start by Jan. 1, 2014. Once that date hits, about 300 days from now, we need to be ready."
Sen.Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) raised the concern that if federal money was withdrawn at some point, the state needed to have a provision in place to back out of the expansion. "I'm very concerned that if federal funds dry up then state taxpayers are on the hook for this," Gaines said.
SBX1-1 passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations on a 4-1 vote.