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medi-cal.JPGThe Legislature approved two bills today to expand Medi-Cal coverage to more than 1 million low-income California residents under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Assembly Bill 1x 1 now heads to the Senate, after passing the Assembly 53-22. Shortly after the Assembly vote, the Senate sent the Assembly a similar Medi-Cal expansion bill 24-7. Senate Bill 1x 1 is authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina.

"Expanding health coverage to low-income adults will ensure Californians have access to care, which will help ensure a more healthy workforce and implementing the expansion will bring billions of federal dollars to the California economy," Hernandez said.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, authored AB 1x 1 and said it is an important step to ensuring people living significantly below the poverty line have access to quality care. In addition to expanding eligibility, Pérez's bill aims to streamline enrollment to reduce the time it takes to receive coverage.

Under the health care law pushed by President Barack Obama, most Americans will be required to buy health insurance by January 2014 or pay a penalty. The tab for the California Medi-Cal expansion will be picked up by the federal government for the first three years. In subsequent years, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost.

In California, more than seven million people are covered under Medi-Cal. The expansion would result in 1 million to 1.6 million Californians enrolling in Medi-Cal beginning in 2014, according to UCLA and UC Berkeley estimates.

Both the Senate and Assembly bills extend coverage to adults under 65 who don't have children living at home. It raises the ceiling on income for eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level - or under $16,000.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and other Republicans in the Assembly questioned whether California would be left with the entire bill for the massive expansion.

"Why don't we lead the nation instead of following them off the fiscal cliff?" Donnelly asked fellow lawmakers.

Pérez said he took issue with colleagues who oppose healthcare for the poor.

"I assume most of the members here have taken advantage of their publicly-funded healthcare," Pérez said. "And yet, they don't think people surviving on $15,400 a year or less should enjoy some access to healthcare. This in my mind is truly a question of how we make just decisions about our resources and our commitment to the well-being of everyone in California."

PHOTO CREDIT: Dr. Douglas Tolly checks on a Medi-Cal patient in 2011, in Yuba City. Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee


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