Consumer advocates celebrated Thursday after Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills that will expand Medi-Cal to nearly 1.4 million low-income adults, streamline the program's enrollment process and restore many of the dental benefits eliminated in 2009.
The changes put California at the forefront of states moving aggressively to implement the national health reform law, advocates said.
"Today's signings represent not just a step in the right direction, but several great leaps to an improved health system for all Californians," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide consumer group.
One of the biggest changes will occur Jan. 1 when Medi-Cal, the joint federal-state program that offers health insurance to low-income people, will be expanded to include nearly 1.4 million childless adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,856 for an individual.
The newly eligible people will receive the same benefits as current Medi-Cal recipients.
Yet even as consumer groups celebrated, a coalition of doctors, dentists, hospitals and other providers lamented a pending 10 percent cut in Medi-Cal rates, noting that California's already are some of the lowest in the nation. Many providers now refuse to see Medi-Cal recipients because of the low rates, they said, which will make it tough for people to find care.
Some states have opted out of the Medicaid expansion, but California has embraced the change. The expansion will be financed fully by the federal government for the first three years. After that, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost.
Other changes will simplify enrollment procedures and eliminate the asset test. The result is that California will be "rolling out the welcome mat" for its Medi-Cal program, rather than making it cumbersome for people to apply and stay enrolled, said Elizabeth Landsberg, director of legislative advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
The California Endowment is donating half of a $53 million outreach campaign to ensure people know about the expansion and to help them enroll, said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president.
Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.