Universal Coverage Bills Move Forward, With Questions

A bill that would expand health care coverage to undocumented adults has moved forward in the California state Assembly, part of a push by Democratic lawmakers to create universal coverage, after a single-payer bill stalled last year.

Allowing undocumented adults onto Medi-Cal could get California a third of the way there. The UC Berkeley Labor Center says it would expand access to coverage to more than a million people. But the bill and the universal coverage effort generally still face a major hurdle—how to pay for them.

“This is an incredible cost,” said Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley).

Legislative staff will “score” the bills when they reach the Appropriations Committee, but for now proponents have not addressed that cost or how to pay for it.

“I can say without getting into specifics that it’s less than the size of our surplus, and something that will have to be dealt with,” said the bill’s author Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno).

That surplus is one-time and estimated at $6 billion. Proponents of the measure will have to identify how they’ll cover that cost continuously and get buy-in not only from lawmakers, but a governor who wants to bank that surplus for the next recession.

The Assembly measure passed along party lines. The Senate Health Committee passed a similar measure last month.

Other bills the Assembly Health Committee passed Tuesday would increase state subsidies for insurance bought on the Covered California health exchange.

One measure would see the state shoulder a larger portion of co-pays and deductibles for individuals earning up to 50,000 dollars.

“Almost 400,000 Californians who are in this income range remain uninsured,” said Beth Capell of advocacy group Health Access. “We think in part because the idea that paying premiums for coverage with a deductible of over $6,000 does not seem like a very good choice.”

Two other measures would increase state funding for premiums. None of those bills have a cost attached to them yet or a source of funding.