Health care plan may cost too much for California

December 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
California taxpayers could soon be on the hook for $3 billion in added health care costs -- that is what the governor is saying healthcare reform will cost the state. He is not too happy with what he calls another unfunded mandate from the feds.

Gov. Schwarzenegger supports Washington's efforts to reform health care, but he has concerns over the portion that would expand Medicaid for the poor, which in California is administered as Medi-Cal.

Its costs are shared between the federal and state government, but under both the House and Senate versions, the feds force states to expand the program with limited financial help.

"I think federal mandates are very, very difficult on the state of California because they make you spend a certain amount of money, which makes it impossible to live within your means," Schwarzenegger said.

The state is facing a new $21 billion deficit and cannot afford a bigger program.

While the federal government would pick up the tab for the first several years, California would have to kick in about 15 percent beginning in 2018 at the cost of roughly $3 billion a year, making nearly 2 million more Californians eligible.

"It would be a great bargain," health care advocate Anthony Wright said. "We'd be getting something like a seven to one match; now, we only get a one to one match."

Mariselle Gonzalez has had no medical coverage for the last three years. She would qualify under the Medi-Cal expansion and really hopes Congress pulls off health care reform off, no matter the cost to the state.

"I haven't been able to go on regular check-ups with the doctor; there were times I have been sick and haven't been able to see a doctor," Gonzalez said. "The governor shouldn't be fighting this, I think it's very important for everybody to have healthcare."

The governor says he is not fighting it; he is tired of California not receiving its fair share of federal dollars.

His aides also point out another aspect driving up the state's share of costs is Medi-Cal payments to doctors. Because California has one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country, few doctors want to take on Medi-Cal patients. So the state will have to pay more in order for the newly-insured to have somewhere to go.


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