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Calif. Speaker seeks to expand Medi-Cal for poor

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 28, 2013 at 7:28 pm •  Published: January 28, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Assembly Speaker John Perez introduced legislation Monday to expand Medicaid in California under the federal Affordable Care Act, extending the health care program for the poor and disabled to include more than 1 million additional people.

At the same time, health care providers escalated their legal fight against the state's planned cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates, saying any further reductions to the state's payments could keep patients from accessing vital care at a time when the state seeks to expand quality coverage for uninsured Californians.

Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, said the cost of covering the additional recipients is still unknown, but would be paid for by the federal government as part of the health overhaul.

"This legislation is 100 percent covered by the federal government for the first 3 years," he said at a news conference in Sacramento as the legislature began a special session on health care reform.

Doctors, pharmacies and advocates said Monday that some providers have stopped serving patients who are already enrolled in the insurance program for the poor — called Medi-Cal in California — because the state's reimbursement rate is so low.

Advocates warned that if the additional cuts go forward, clinics could go out of business and more providers would opt out of caring for low-income patients, just as the state seeks to expand and improve access as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

"Patients are the ones who will be hurt if these cuts go through," said Duane Dauner, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. "Especially at risk are rural and safety net hospitals."

About 7.1 million Californians currently lack health insurance.

With the new requirement in 2014 that virtually all Americans have health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, providers believe hundreds of thousands more low-income people will soon enroll.

Perez said his proposal would expand the coverage to people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $15,400 a year for an individual.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, introduced a similar bill Monday after the special session was convened.

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