Health Consumer Groups Applaud Both Long-Term Vision for Health Care for all Californians, and the Governor’s Specific Steps to Help Californians Access & Afford Coverage This Year
On his first day in office, Governor Newsom announces support for major expansions of health coverage and other key health reforms, including first-in-the-nation expansions: increasing affordability assistance post-ACA in the individual market to middle-income Californians, and expanding Medi-Cal to low-income undocumented adults up to age 26. In March 2018, over 50 organizations came together in the #Care4AllCA campaign to advance universal coverage in the near future, without the need for federal approvals. The campaign advanced around 20 bills and budget items, and had eight pieces of legislation signed into law, although not the coverage expansion elements.
We applaud Governor Newsom’s announcement to take significant steps to increase health care access and affordability, from premiums to prescription drug prices. Last year, voters supported Governor Newsom in a health care election, and were clamoring not just to protect their care, but for the real, tangible steps to improve access and affordability to care.
Under these proposals, California would be the first state in the nation post-ACA to increase financial help to middle-income California trying to afford individual insurance. By removing exclusions in Medi-Cal for low-income young adults regardless of immigration status, California would also be the first state in the nation to extend Medicaid coverage to undocumented adults, beyond pregnant women and children. Our health system is stronger when everyone is included. These steps outlined today would put California on an aspirational and achievable path to universal coverage.
Even after historic coverage gains under the ACA, around three million Californians continue to be uninsured, largely because they need help to pay for their health care in an admittedly high cost-of-living state, or because they are excluded from existing help due to age, disability, or immigration status. Governor Newsom’s announcement to back key state investments that address these barriers, and which do not need federal approval, would bring down our uninsured rate even further, getting us that much closer to the 1-3% uninsurance rate seen in most European countries. If better affordability assistance can be provided, the Governor’s proposal to join other states like New Jersey and Vermont in reinstituting the requirement to have individual insurance would help get more Californians covered and reduce premiums. The Care4All California campaign of over 50 health, consumer, and community organizations proposed many parts of this agenda last year, and we are glad that Governor Newsom is taking up this expansive agenda on day one.
Governor Newsom is right to both seek the federal permissions needed for a single-payer system, and to insist California take the actions we can without federal approval, providing tangible help to California consumers this year. We cannot allow federal obstacles to be an excuse for state inaction towards our universal coverage.
Due to the continued sabotage of our health care system by the Trump Administration, our state might see an increase in our uninsured rate and may backslide on our progress without these actions taken promptly by our new Governor and Legislature. The California electorate clearly expects to not just keep us where we are, but to improve the system and make it work better for more people. Governor Newsom made it clear today that he plans to not just protect California’s progress, but take further steps to guaranteed, affordable, quality, health care coverage for all.
UC Berkeley Labor Center and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research recently released a report titled “California’s Health Coverage Gains to Erode Without Further State Action” detailing the negative state-level impacts of the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate. Researchers find that because of the removal of the requirement to have health insurance, the uninsurance rate of people under age 65 could grow to 11.7% in 2020 (about 4 million people) and then to 12.9% in 2023 (or 4.4 million people), undoing the historic gains that California has made under the ACA. The largest groups of the remaining uninsured are undocumented Californians who are barred from accessing most health coverage options and Californians who struggle to afford their care.
On top of coverage expansions, the Governor is right to focus on controlling costs, particularly prescription drug prices. Allowing state agencies to combine together when buying prescription drugs could drive down costs using bulk purchasing power. Governor Newsom’s support for our proposed legislation on expanding prescription drug purchasing pools should be the first step to using the state’s market and moral power to address high health costs overall.
A new focus on prevention and public health, elevated by a new position of California Surgeon General, will hopefully not just keep costs down but keep Californians healthy and out of needing care to begin with.