By Suzanne Potter, California News Service
June 14, 2019 (Sacramento) - California's new $214 billion budget, passed by the state Senate on Thursday, moves the Golden State closer to universal health coverage.
The plan, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, puts almost $1.5 billion over three years toward subsidies to lower the premiums for people who buy health insurance through the "CoveredCA" exchange.
Anthony Wright, executive director of the nonprofit Health Access, says the aid is tailored to low-and middle-income people who make between $17,000 and $72,000 a year.
"About a million Californians might get some help to better defray the costs of healthcare," says Wright. "Of those, about 300,000 get enough help that they may be newly covered from previously being uninsured."
State lawmakers propose to pay for the expansion with a state-level mandate that everyone carry health insurance or pay a fine.
The budget also sets aside $100 million to allow low-income, undocumented immigrants, ages 19 to 25, to sign up for Medi-Cal. Critics of the budget say the extra spending is unwise and complain that it was made possible by a new gas tax of five cents a gallon - a policy they opposed.
Wright notes the budget also restores several important benefits to Medi-Cal - things that were cut during the recession 10 years ago.
"It's a shame that it's taken 10 years of an economic recovery to finally get these key benefits restored, whether they be podiatry, audiology, speech therapy, optical and other key medical services," says Wright.
The budget also ends the so-called "senior penalty" in Medi-Cal, by changing the income limits to make about 27,000 additional lower-income seniors and people with disabilities eligible for the program.