Gov. Jerry Brown Considering Expanding Medi-Cal to Immigrants

Gov. Jerry Brown is considering expanding state-funded Medi-Cal coverage to residents shielded from deportation under President Obama’s new immigration policies.

Nancy McFadden, the governor’s top policy aide, said that possibility is under review by the Brown administration, but implied that the potential cost would be a factor in the decision.

“We’re still evaluating, but the president’s recent action on undocumented immigrants could perhaps open a door for more coverage of more people under Medi-Cal,” McFadden said. “We’re looking at that. That, of course, is going to cost money.”

McFadden made the comments while speaking at an event Wednesday hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, held after the release of its recent opinion poll on California’s future, and she touched on a number of Brown’s top policy priorities for his upcoming new term.

McFadden noted that 2 million more Californians are covered by Medi-Cal than two years ago, and emphasized that the increase in healthcare coverage for residents is a pivotal ingredient in helping people rise out of poverty.

Those gains in Medi-Cal enrollment coincided with the implementation of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. Undocumented residents currently cannot sign up for subsidized health insurance provided under the Affordable Care Act, and also are barred from Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program for low-income Americans (known as Medi-Cal in California).

More than a million immigrants in California could benefit from protections provided by Obama’s executive action.

McFadden, speaking to a packed conference room at the Sheraton Grand Hotel near the Capitol, said the governor’s main focus during his next term would be to ensure that the major policies launched over the last four years are successful. That includes a push for more local control over schools and the criminal justice system, as well as Brown’s emphasis on reducing carbon emissions.

“It’s not sexy …. but we’ve got to do the hard work of implementing,” McFadden said.

Among Brown’s top priorities is constructing the state’s $68-billion high-speed rail system, which has come under fire by Republicans in Congress and his GOP challenger in the November election.

Public support for the rail system has eroded since California voters in 2008 authorized $9 billion in borrowing for the project, some public opinion polls show. However, the governor believes the rail system will be essential to improving transportation and reducing carbon emissions in California, McFadden said.

Brown wants to “get high-speed rail actually on a path where it won’t be stopped,” McFadden said.

In June, a budget compromise between the Democratic governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature set aside a quarter of the revenue raised by California’s state cap-and-trade program, which charges fees on polluters when their carbon emissions exceed set limits, to help fund the bullet train.

On tax policy, McFadden said that Brown would listen to ideas about retooling California’s tax system, but that he would oppose any effort to extend the temporary tax increase voters approved in 2012 under Proposition 30. Brown campaigned heavily for the tax increase to help California recover from the recession.

“The governor has been really clear that he went to voters and said Prop. 30 was a temporary tax increase, and he’s not going to break faith with the voters on that,” McFadden said.

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