New Legislature, New Year for Health Care in California (and a Special Event)
By Anthony Wright
Yesterday, a new California legislature got sworn in for the 2013-14 legislative session, with new members, new margins, and a renewed mission to implement health reform and improve health care in general.
Both Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez mentioned health issues in their opening remarks after being formally re-elected to their leadership posts.
In talking about the budget, Senator Steinberg specifically highlighted the cut of dental coverage in Medi-Cal as a major cut that was made in bleaker budget days, and one he will work to restore. He recalled going to a free dental clinic at Cal Expo, and seeing endless lines of people (mostly working families) requiring root canals and dental surgery, who had put off basic care for years.
Speaker Perez specifically listed the establishment of the Health Benefits Exchange as a key accomplishment of the past year, but started with health care when laying out future plans: "Certainly much of the early focus of this legislature will be on the special session on health care that the Governor will call in January. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land," and "our duties as legislators is to implement its provisions in the most efficient and effective manner for the people of California. Ensuring access to quality affordable care is our primary concern and is of primary importance for the middle class."
New benefits of the Affordable Care Act come online on January 1, 2014, and the goal is to start signing Californians up for these new coverage options in October 2013 - less than ten short months away. Thus starts a sprint to get California ready to implement federal health law and maximize its benefit, after an election than re-elected the President and virtually all Congressional supporters of "Obamacare," and in California passed Proposition 30 that firmed up the financial foundation of state services on which these new reforms will be built.
The special legislative session on health reform implementation is expected to consider the new rules for insurers (including banning denials for pre-existing conditions) and the expansion of Medi-Cal. Much more work is needed at the Department of Health Care Services, Department of Managed Health Care, Department of Insurance, and the new health benefits exchange, now called Covered California.
That's why we at Health Access are excited about today's Symposium and Health Access 25th Anniversary Event. To spotlight the legislative, administrative, and organizing work needed, Health Access is sponsoring a post-election symposium on Tuesday, December 4th, from 1:00 to 5:00 PM at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento. While looking to the future, it will also be a time to revisit the past, as Health Access celebrates 25 years of advocacy. This two-part "Fulfilling the Promise" event will include a program and discussion to lay out next steps for California health advocates, timed right after a consequential election, and with newly-named chairs of key health committees. Speakers include:
- California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana S. Dooley
- The Honorable Dr. Ed Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee
- The Honorable Dr. Richard Pan, chair of the Assembly Health Committee
- The Honorable Holly Mitchell, chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services
- Dr. Diana Bonta, President and CEO, The California Wellness Foundation
- Daniel Zingale, Senior Vice President, The California Endowment
- Edwin Park, VP, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities
- Ellen Wu, Executive Director, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network
- Betsy Imholz, Special Projects Director, Consumers Union and others.
Following the program at 5:00 PM will be a reception celebrating the progress we have made over the past twenty-five years with a short program to recognize key California leaders, including the recently passed UCLA professor Dr. E. Richard Brown.
If you can join us, we look forward to seeing you!
Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.