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Jan. 15--Gov. Jerry Brown brought clarity to efforts to get more Californians health care coverage with the unveiling of his state budget proposal last week.
Brown set aside $350 million to expand the state's public health insurance program for the poor and proposed to simplify enrollment so more eligible people would apply.
In addition, Brown committed the state to a major plank of the federal Affordable Care Act: coverage of people without children earning up to 138% of the federal poverty line, which is $15,415 a year.
This was a smart decision by the governor for many reasons.
The costs of covering more people now eligible for Medi-Cal -- the state's version of Medicaid -- will be split between the state and federal governments. The federal government also will cover for three years the costs of coverage for poor Californians not currently eligible. After that, the costs will be shared.
Both efforts will set up more people with primary care providers and get folks out of emergency rooms, where care is extraordinarily expensive.
It should not be overlooked that with half of California's insured expected to qualify for coverage, doctors and hospitals will have a greater likelihood of being paid for services. This means that insured Californians won't be stuck, as they are now, with subsidizing uncompensated care through higher premiums.
Despite Brown's recent embrace of Obamacare, California faces a huge loophole.
Thirty-seven states empower their insurance commissioners to veto exorbitant medical insurance rate hikes. In our state, the insurance commissioner doesn't have that power -- even though he or she can roll back unjustified premium increases for auto and homeowner insurance.
Thus, with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, medical insurance companies that must toe the line most places around the country may be tempted to engage in cost-shifting and to sock it to Californians on their premiums.
A 2014 ballot measure backed by state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and consumer groups would give his office the power to knock down unjustified hikes. We believe it is a proposal with merit.
(c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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