New­som makes pitch for state-funded health cov­er­age

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN J. COOPER

Gov. Gavin New­som’s first act as gov­er­nor Mon­day was to pro­pose state­funded health cov­er­age for 138,000 young peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally and a re­in­state­ment of a man­date that ev­ery­one buy in­sur­ance or face fines.

New­som also pro­posed giv­ing sub­si­dies to mid­dle-class fam­i­lies that make too much to qual­ify them un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law. He signed an or­der giv­ing the state more bar­gain­ing power in ne­go­ti­at­ing pre­scrip­tion drug prices. And he sent a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers seek­ing more au­thor­ity over fed­eral health care dol­lars and poli­cies.

“When ev­ery­body is pooled to­gether it means lower cost for each and ev­ery one of you,” New­som said in a video broad­cast on Face­book as he signed his or­ders. “The spirit of this is about bring­ing down costs.”

New­som was elected fol­low­ing a cam­paign that leaned heav­ily on his promise to pro­vide health cov­er­age to ev­ery­one. His ac­tions hours af­ter he took the oath of of­fice take a step in that di­rec­tion but the $760 mil­lion price tag will re­quire ap­proval from the Demo­crat­i­cally con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture.

His let­ter to Repub­li­cans in Washington shows the uphill bat­tle he'll face to meet his goal of en­act­ing a “single payer” health care plan that would com­bine state and fed­eral health care dol­lars with new taxes to pro­vide pub­licly funded in­sur­ance to ev­ery­one in the state.

The idea is a top pri­or­ity for many in New­som’s lib­eral base but has been stymied by the stag­ger­ing cost – a prior pro­posal was pegged at $400 bil­lion – and the need for waivers from fed­eral laws.

His pro­pos­als to cover im­mi­grants and ex­pand sub­si­dies were a preview of his bud­get to be re­leased later this week. They mir­ror ideas pushed last year by Democrats in the Assem­bly, who were un­able to con­vince for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown to em­brace them.

“Gov. New­som is right to make ac­cess to qual­ity, af­ford­able health care a pri­or­ity,” Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don, a Demo­crat from the Los An­ge­les area, said in a state­ment.

Cal­i­for­nia has a pro­jected sur­plus of $15 bil­lion.

Obama’s health law re­quired ev­ery­one in the coun­try to buy in­sur­ance or pay a penalty, a con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy meant to en­sure that the in­sur­ance pool has a mix of healthy and sick peo­ple. The penalty was ze­roed out in

2017 by the Repub­li­can Congress and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. In­sur­ance com­pa­nies, con­cerned that only peo­ple with ex­pen­sive health prob­lems would buy cov­er­age, re­sponded by rais­ing pre­mi­ums for peo­ple who buy their own cov­er­age with­out go­ing through an em­ployer.

Cal­i­for­nia would join Mas­sachusetts, New Jersey and Ver­mont as states with their own in­sur­ance man­dates.

Obama’s health law also cre­ated sub­si­dies to help peo­ple buy cov­er­age if they don’t get it from an em­ployer or a gov­ern­ment pro­gram such as Medi­care or Med­i­caid. New­som would use $500 mil­lion in state money to make the sub­si­dies larger for 1.1 mil­lion fam­i­lies that al­ready get them and pro­vide new as­sis­tance to about 250,000 peo­ple who make too much.

New­som’s plan would pro­vide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for in­di­vid­u­als who make up to about $73,000 a year and fam­i­lies of four mak­ing up to $150,000.

Cal­i­for­nia’s unin­sured rate has dropped to just over 7 per­cent. Many of those who still lack cov­er­age are in­el­i­gi­ble for pub­licly funded pro­grams, such as Medi-Cal and pri­vate in­sur­ance sub­si­dies, be­cause they’re liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

Medi-Cal, the state’s ver­sion of Med­i­caid, is jointly funded by the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment and pro­vides cov­er­age to one in three Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

Cal­i­for­nia uses state money to ex­tend Med­i­Cal cov­er­age to peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally up to age 19. New­som pro­poses push­ing back the cut­off to age 26, cov­er­ing an ad­di­tional 138,000 peo­ple at a cost of about $260 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to New­som’s spokesman, Nathan Click.

New­som signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing state agen­cies to move to­ward pur­chas­ing drugs in bulk for all of the 13 mil­lion peo­ple on Med­i­Cal. Pur­chas­ing for all but 2 mil­lion peo­ple is cur­rently han­dled by the pri­vate in­sur­ers that serve as man­aged care or­ga­ni­za­tions. New­som hopes bulk pur­chas­ing drugs will give the state enor­mous bar­gain­ing power to ne­go­ti­ate lower prices.

His or­der di­rects state agen­cies to ex­plore let­ting oth­ers, in­clud­ing employers and pri­vate in­sur­ers – join the state’s pur­chas­ing pool.


Gavin New­som de­liv­ers his in­au­gu­ral speech as Cal­i­for­nia’s 40th gov­er­nor at the State Capi­tol in Sacra­mento on Mon­day.

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