Opinion: California moves forward on affordable health care

Recently, a U.S. District Court ruling declared the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate unconstitutional, evening the score 2-2 among lower court rulings supporting the law versus those opposing it, and setting the stage for an appeals process that could take years.  Let the courts do their job.  

In the meantime, the law still stands, and California is moving forward in implementing it.  Since the law’s passage the ACA has already begun improving the health of Californians. Up to 196,000 young adults are eligible to stay on their parents’ health plan until they turn 26, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on care for the more than eighteen million Californians with private health insurance and 102,834 seniors in California have already received a $250 tax-free rebate for hitting the Medicare part D donut hole.  

Further, in Gov. Brown’s State of the State, he described tough choices for tough times and the immediate need to get the state budget back on track. However, the ACA is the one place California can go to expand health care options for Californians, right now, today.

Here are four actions the governor could take to bring more money to California from provisions in the new federal health law:

The governor could push the federal government to release the prevention funds included in the new law more quickly.  These funds are to be distributed directly to states for community efforts that implement proven, effective disease-prevention programs that, if used effectively, will keep health costs down in the future, too.

— We at The California Endowment have offered to provide the state’s portion of the funds (up to $500,000) to unlock the federal planning grant money to analyze the implementation of health homes in the state’s Medi-Cal program.  A health home is a new approach to health care where primary care providers, families and patients work in partnership to improve health outcomes and quality of life.  When implemented, California could unlock nine federal dollars for every one the state spends and bring tens of millions of federal dollars to California.  And that money will save lives, keep kids healthy and in school, and keep parents working.

 –The ACA also provides the opportunity to replace the outdated, antiquated Medi-Cal enrollment system with a new streamlined and more efficient system that can maximize enrollment opportunities in health care and other public benefits.  As the world’s leader in technology, California should be able to create a more efficient and effective enrollment system, especially when there is federal money to do it.

 –Small businesses have a lot to gain from the new federal health law but many don’t know that. The governor could use the power of his office to make sure small businesses take full advantage of the ACA’s new tax credits, and eventually, the health benefit exchange, as well as the new high-risk medical insurance plan for individuals.

Most of all, we want to congratulate the leadership the Brown administration has already shown on health care.  

His new Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley was right when she said California is going to be the “lead car” in the race to implement the new health law. Instead of wasting time in Washington-style posturing, this administration is going to make sure that it gets every benefit the new law allows.  That’s good news for our state, our people and our economy.

Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is part of the way out of our tough economic times.  Gov. Brown gets it.  And we applaud him for it.  

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