Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion

In order to help implement President Obama’s healthcare overhaul in
California, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a major expansion of the state’s
public insurance program in the state budget he unveiled Thursday.

Most Americans face the requirement in January
2014 to buy health insurance or pay a
penalty under the federal Affordable Care Act. 

Brown earmarked $350 million in his spending plan to help enroll more
Californians in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
Under the proposal, enrollment rules would be simplified to cover residents who
are currently eligible but not enrolled. Those costs would be split evenly between
state and federal governments.

The governor’s plan also calls for a separate, larger
expansion of Medi-Cal that would cover a group of low-income Californians not
currently eligible for the program: adults without children, earning up to
138% of the federal poverty level — or $15,415 a year. The federal government
would subsidize costs for the first three years, with the state shouldering a
portion of the bill after that.

Whether that expansion will be handled at the state or county levels will be the subject of debate in the coming months.

Brown called the $350 million in his plan a ‘placeholder’
figure, given that state officials await additional guidance from Washington,
including the scope of benefits that would be required for newly eligible
Californians and the funding formula that would determine how much federal
money the state receives.

While state officials declined to provide caseload
estimates, healthcare analysts have said the expansion could result in hundreds
of thousands of new enrollees in Medi-Cal.